In Memoriam: Professor Roy M. Mersky, 1925–2008

May 7, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — Professor Roy M. Mersky, the Harry M. Reasoner Regents Chair in Law and longtime director of the Tarlton Law Library and Jamail Center for Legal Research at The University of Texas School of Law, died Tuesday, May 6, in Austin after a brief illness. Mersky, a decorated World War II veteran and civil rights advocate, was 82.

Under Mersky's more than 40 years of stewardship, Tarlton's collections and services expanded and the library became recognized as one of the most distinguished law libraries in the nation.

Roy MerskyPhoto: Rick Patrick

"Throughout his career, Roy Mersky was fiercely determined to better serve the UT Law faculty, the UT Law students and the UT Law community at large more than any other law library served its constituents," said Law School Dean Larry Sager.

"He was fiercely determined to staff the nation's law schools with skilled law librarians schooled by their service at UT. And he was fiercely determined to enlarge the idea of a fine library to include lectures, conferences and exhibitions of erudite bibliography and history. He was, in sum, fiercely determined to make the UT Law Library, his library, the most distinguished law library in the world. He succeeded. His passing is the passing of a titan."

University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr., former dean of the School of Law, said, "Roy Mersky was a giant figure at our Law School and in legal education for almost half a century. He built one of the finest law libraries in the world, and helped other law schools and institutions around the world build their own. He was a scholar and teacher. He was a tenacious defender of civil rights and religious freedom. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge when he was 17. He left an enormous mark on this world, and made it a far better place. But even more than that, he was a decent man and a dear friend. I will sorely miss him. We all will."

Mark G. Yudof, former University of Texas system chancellor and president-designate of the University of California who was the University of Texas Law School dean from 1984 to 1994, said, "For almost 50 years Roy Mersky has been the nation's leading law librarian, and those who have been trained and mentored by him have become head law librarians at premier law schools in America and around the world. His brilliant leadership at the Tarlton Law Library has contributed immeasurably to the growing stature of the UT Law School. Roy will have a successor but he can never be replaced. Our hearts and prayers go out to Roy's family and innumerable friends."

Mersky's career was distinguished by his initiatives and innovation in library services, his advocacy and mentoring of law librarians, his engagement in issues that affect information policy, and his leadership and participation in professional associations.

Mersky came to Texas and the university in 1965 when he was hired as professor of law and director of the Tarlton Law Library by then University School of Law Dean Page Keeton. Mersky's example and initiatives were widely emulated. His energy and passion for the law and the academic enterprise, and his belief in the role of the library as a leader in that enterprise, inspired his staff and set a standard for libraries around the country.

He will also be remembered as a great mentor, a wise counsel and a wonderful friend. The large number of current and past law library directors who were trained by Mersky is staggering. Those directors consistently attribute much of their success to his tutelage and his support that continued long after staff had left Tarlton for other pursuits. Mersky reveled in his role as a mentor and was always a strong advocate for law librarians.

His service to the academy and the judiciary was similarly distinguished. Faculty and judges around the country, including members of the U.S. Supreme Court and the Texas Supreme Court, knew that Mersky could, and always did, support their scholarship and teaching. He enjoyed friendships with U.S. Supreme Court Justices Tom Clark, Harry Blackmun and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among many other distinguished jurists and scholars.

The University of Texas at Austin benefitted from Mersky's service as a teacher, administrator and scholar. He taught in the School of Law and the School of Information, and was on numerous committees within the University.

He was an author of, and contributor to, scores of books and articles, and was acknowledged in many more texts written by others. As a nationally recognized expert in legal research, the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, law and language, law in popular culture and rare law books, Mersky was a frequent speaker in the United States and abroad. While on sabbatical from the university, he was the interim director of the Jewish National and University Library of Hebrew University.

Mersky was a champion of civil rights. He participated in civil rights marches in Selma and Montgomery, Alabama in the 1960s, and was the president of the Texas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

His service in World War II, which included fighting with the 87th Infantry Division in General Patton's Army at the Battle of the Bulge, was recognized when Mersky was awarded the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, numerous campaign ribbons and the combat infantry badge.

Mersky was a member of numerous associations and honorary societies, including the Texas Philosophical Society, the American Law Institute and the American Society for International Law. Among the many honors he received were the American Association of Law Libraries' 2005 Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award, the American Association of Law Libraries' Presidential Certificate of Merit, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and the Information Studies Alumni Association's Centennial Celebration Alumnus of the Year Award. Mersky was also involved in the American, Texas and Wisconsin Bar Associations.

Mersky was born on Sept. 1, 1925 in New York City, where he attended public school in the Bronx. He received three degrees from the University of Wisconsin, his bachelor of science in 1948, his law degree in 1952 and his master of applied library science degree in 1953.

Memorial services are being planned. More information will be published as it becomes available.

Read more about the life and legacy of Professor Roy M. Mersky and view a photo gallery.

For more information, contact: Laura Castro, director of media relations, School of Law, 512-825-9525 (cell); Jeanne Price, associate director for patron services, Tarlton Law Library, 512-471-7148.