Thursday, October 3, 2019
Sadly, we must share the news that our friend and colleague, Oscar S. Gray, passed away today (October 3) in New York City. Oscar, the Jacob A. France Professor Emeritus of Torts at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, was one of the nation’s preeminent tort scholars from the 1970s until the time of his death. He published the second and third editions of the definitive six-volume treatise on tort law, Harper, James and Gray on Torts. He also was a co-editor of the influential torts casebook, Cases and Materials on Torts, along with Harry Shulman, Fleming James, Jr., and Don Gifford. During the mid-1990s, he served as chair of the AALS Section on Tort and Compensation Systems, and in 2010, he received the William L. Prosser Award for lifetime service from the section.
Oscar, a native of Maryland, attended Yale College from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He decided to attend Yale Law School because, as he said in a 2011 interview, “law [is] a mechanism for bringing about social change, and … a way—perhaps the most striking way—of fighting for the righting of wrongs.” There he received, from Harry Shulman and Fleming James, Jr., what he described as “the best introduction to Torts I could have hoped for.” He also worked as a research assistant with Fowler Harper.
In the early 1950s during the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era, Professor Gray served as an attorney-adviser in the Legal Adviser's Office of the U.S. Department of State. Both in this role and when he applied for admission to the Maryland Bar, he was asked, but refused as a matter of principle, questions about his political beliefs or the people whom he knew. From 1957 until 1971, he became a vice president and director of a start-up company in the nuclear materials field. He later served the government as special counsel to the President's Task Force on Communications Policy and as acting director of the Office of Environmental Impact for the U.S. Department of Transportation where, as he later described it, he “had a dandy time trying to prevent roads from doing unnecessary environmental harm.”
As a result of this work, in the late 1960s, Oscar received offers to teach the newly developing subject, Environmental Law, at Georgetown and Catholic. While doing so, he assembled a casebook on environmental law because there were no commercial offerings in the field. In 1970, Georgetown Law School offered him a full-time faculty position teaching Torts. Oscar’s first step was to visit his own Torts teacher, Fleming James, at Yale to seek his suggestions regarding teaching torts. At the end of their encounter, Professor James asked Oscar if he was willing to coedit a new edition of the Shulman and James tort casebook and Oscar enthusiastically accepted the offer. A year or so later, Oscar joined James as a coeditor of the torts treatise. When asked in the 2011 interview what he regarded as his most important professional accomplishment, Oscar answered that it was “keeping alive the voices of Shulman and James, and Harper, so that they can continue to speak to new generations of students and scholars.” Oscar was extremely active in the activities of the American Law Institute and its drafting of the earlier parts of the Restatement (Third) of Torts.
In 1971, Oscar joined the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Law where he actively taught until 1996. To his colleagues, he was a steadfast figure of uncompromising integrity and commitment to scholarly excellence and precision in the use of language.
In 2018, Oscar celebrated fifty years of marriage with Dr. Sheila Hafter Gray, a leader in the psychoanalytic education and accreditation community. She survives him.
Despite his demanding scholarly agenda, Oscar was a huge fan of baseball and his Baltimore Orioles, through good times and bad. For decades, he “scored” each baseball game he attended with pencil and paper. He and Sheila also enjoyed chamber music and opera. Finally, Oscar was a serious wine collector.
Oscar Gray’s life will be celebrated at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law at a date and time to be announced later.
--Don Gifford and Chris Robinette