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George M. Joseph ’51

George Manley Joseph ’51, former chief judge of the Oregon Court of Appeals, died on June 23, 2003, at age 72 of respiratory failure due to complications from polio. George served as a member of the Reed board of trustees from 1972 to 1980.

George Van Hoomisen, George's colleague who later became an Oregon Supreme Court justice, said that George was a leader, and that “he was going to try and bring you around to his point to view. He’s a very strong personality, and he’d speak his mind.”

George was born in Caldwell, Idaho, and was raised in Boise. He was a history major at Reed when in November 1950 he contracted polio; he missed a year at Reed after undergoing intensive rehabilitation, but succeeded in graduating in 1952. George went on to earn a JD at the University of Chicago Law School in 1955 and an LLM at the New York University Law School in 1959.

After clerking for George Rossman, Oregon Supreme Court Justice, George taught in the law schools at Ohio Northwestern University, Dickinson, New York University, and the University of Arkansas; he was a part-time professor at the Northwestern College of Law (now part of Lewis & Clark College). From 1963 to 1966 he was a deputy district attorney for Multnomah County, then worked in private practice until 1975 with the firms Reiter, Day; Morrison, Bailey; and Bemis, Breathouwer. In 1975 he was appointed Multnomah County counsel, and in 1977 Oregon governor Bob Straub appointed him to the Oregon Court of Appeals, where he was named chief judge in 1981. He retired from the court in 1992. He was honored for his outstanding legal career by awards of merit from the Oregon State and Multnomah Bar Associations.

George received the Foster-Scholz Club Distinguished Service Award in 2001. Learning of his selection for the award, he wrote: “I was thrown back in memory to the day when the governor called to say that he had just appointed me to the Court of Appeals. The thrill of that only slightly exceeded the thrill of your message.” In addition to his time as a trustee, George's long service to Reed included membership in the 1970–71 search committee that selected Paul Bragdon [president 1971–88], presidency of the alumni association in 1967–68, and membership in the alumni board’s nominating committee in 1994. He created a Public Service Scholarship in 1974, and he and his wife, Elizabeth Lyle Starr Joseph, established the George M. and Elizabeth L. Joseph Scholarship in 1999 for juniors and seniors with a serious commitment to community service.

George wrote to the college in 1991, “I think there have been four dominating influences in my life: my mother, my wife, my Reed College life (and love), and my supervening curiosity. The curiosity is, no doubt, innate, and it may be inherited; but Reed supplied the intellectual framework for exercising that curiosity, not particularly by imposing a discipline but by stimulating the realization that thinking, studying, and learning are not only enjoyable activities but are the activities that make being a human being worthwhile.”

His community activities included work with legal aid, the ACLU, and indigent defense, as well as with agencies that include the Oregon Historical Society, the National Easter Seal Society, and the City Club of Portland. Joseph was deeply interested in Egypt and made several visits to that country.

George is survived by his wife; by his daughters Kate Joseph, Amy Joseph Pedersen, and Abbie Joseph-Harrington; his sons Ben Joseph and Jon Joseph; and 13 grandchildren. Remembrances may be sent to the George M. and Elizabeth L. Joseph Scholarship Fund at Reed.

Appeared in Reed magazine: November 2003

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