Miami Law Mourns the Passing of Dean Emerita Mary Doyle


Mary Doyle, Dean Emerita and Professor of Law Emerita, passed away peacefully this morning at her home in Milwaukee.  

“She was one of a kind,” said Dean Patricia White in an email to the law school community.  

Mary Doyle, 1943-2016

Doyle served as dean of Miami Law from 1986 through 1994 and was interim dean in 1998-99. During the 1994-95 academic years, she was dean-in-residence for the American Association of Law Schools. From fall 1999 until the beginning of 2001, she was on leave from Miami Law to serve in the U.S. Department of the Interior as acting assistant secretary of the interior for water and science and as chair of an intergovernmental panel coordinating a massive 20-year $7.3 billion Everglades restoration program.

She was a founding Co-Director of the University's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science & Policy. Professor Doyle taught property, land use, and water law at Miami Law.

“She was smart and funny and a legendary dean and environmental policymaker,” said Donna E. Shalala, former president of the University of Miami who met Doyle in the 1970s. “She recruited me to UM.”

The following was written by Professor of Law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar Patrick O. Gudridge on Professor Doyle’s recent retirement in 2016.

Mary Doyle is extraordinary in many ways. She is intense, smart, committed, devoted, ambitious, funny, sharp, encompassing, ever active—in all sorts of settings. Her biographer will risk death from exhaustion. I write oppositely here, deliberately narrowly. Mary seized hold of this law school’s deanship, made it thoroughly hers and changed the school much in the process. It was important to her to do this—and important for all the rest of us that this was so.

Mary became dean in 1986 and held office full force through 1994. 

What did she do?

I should probably note first that she saved the law school. 

Hurricane Andrew—the storm so intense it provoked the creation of the “category five” characterization—arrived in late August 1992, just as we were conducting orientation at the beginning of the fall semester. Within a day or so, a big chunk of Miami blew apart. The University of Miami looked to have disappeared in a mass of downed trees and power lines. Nothing in the way of usual educational work was possible. 

Students were everywhere and nowhere, in short order dispersed across the city, state, and country. Would they come back? Mary Doyle, working with the Student Bar Association president, somehow spoke to just about every incoming first-year student, checked to see how they were doing, told them the law school would reopen soon enough, and asked them to sit tight. She moved on to the second—and third-year students. Just about all came back when the school opened. They didn’t have to, we should remember. 

She also built or reimagined and rebuilt a big chunk of the law school, construction begun before Andrew and triumphantly concluded after. 

The school as it looks right now is about half hers. It’s not actually. Mary, and the architects she cheered, rewrapped and inward-opened-up a lot of what was already there, making parts of the past (as it were) now integrally present. She (and they) demonstrated too, inside the compound especially, that the path of the law isn’t all dead ends but might well look to be (as every law student learns).

Mary Doyle refused to recognize that the law school and the world were worlds apart. 

She placed a photograph in the dean’s office, right where all who met with her could see. The picture showed a clump of happy children climbing all over a happy older man, with a large image of a younger man in the immediate background. It was easy to figure out that one in the clump was Mary herself. Most of us suddenly realized that the happy man was Adlai Stevenson, and we knew who he was. And we knew that the photo in the picture was the 1960 Kennedy for President campaign poster. It was, we were supposed to see, all the same to her—great figures and their magnificent politics, her family, Mary herself, all one joyous jumble, all one world—hers. 

It was no surprise, then, that Mary convened the entire first-year class one day to introduce the then-State’s Attorney, Janet Reno so that Ms. Reno could put on a day-long panel discussion about juvenile crime. It was also no surprise, sometime later, that Mary, walking into the dean’s office, announced (legend has it) that she’d “figured out how to make Janet Attorney General.” Reno was nominated shortly after that. 

Another day, a year or two later, University of Miami President Edward Foote looked out across the long slope of his backyard and noticed just-retired President Alfonsin of Argentina, soon-to-be President Aristide of Haiti, and Supreme Court Justice Brennan walking on campus. With them was a pack of other judges, lawyers, and notables, and academic luminaries like Owen Fiss, Carlos Nino, Irwin Stotzky, and William Twining. Foote exclaimed: “This is the way it’s supposed to be!” Mary Doyle didn’t bring together this great group, just as she didn’t appoint Janet Reno to be Attorney General. She positioned possibility, noticed conjunctions, realized that seemingly unlikely events were readily manageable, and so somehow it happened.

Again: Dean Doyle didn’t know Justice Brennan all that well until, shortly after he retired, she concluded that it would be a good thing for him if he taught a course at the law school in January and February for a few years. Justice and Mrs. Brennan agreed. I was the associate dean at that point. Mary said to me, “You’re in charge of the course part. Figure it out. Make it work.” (Working for Mary was sometimes like jumping off cliffs.) I followed instructions. I remember asking students whether they wanted in. None of them believed that things like this happened.

Again and again and again: I saw Mary once start to crawl across a table, seemingly intent on strangling (or maybe devouring) a distinguished member of the law school’s visiting committee who had said something derogatory about the school. On another occasion, at some dinner, I watched a faculty colleague burst into tears when he was presented with a copy of his new book that Mary had in some way or another prompted Justice Brennan and a host of other hugely accomplished diners to sign. 

Quintessentially: Mary, at a meeting of administrators after Derrick Bell, Jr. had begun his sit-in in his office at Harvard protesting the paucity of black faculty there, declared, “We should send him a basket of fruit from ‘his friends at Miami.’ He will need fruit.” Mary brought Professor Bell to Miami to reinforce the then still-organizing Black Law Students Association.

The point: Mary Doyle as dean seized and flung out, whenever she had the chance, a forceful energy she tapped and focused in her process of trying to think and act within the law school and within larger worlds both at once, pushing each within the other. This energy was her physics and her politics, as it were—the way she led, or rather propelled the law school. It was a history-changing accomplishment.