Professor John Barton is dead

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Stanford Law Professor John H. Barton died on August 3, 2009, nearly three weeks after a bicycle accident had put him into a coma.  John was 72 years old and had retired from Stanford Law School in 2002, but he remained an active presence at the School.  He was still excitedly working on new and continuing projects, mainly aimed at improving health in the developing world.

John graduated with from Marquette University in 1958 with degrees in philosophy and in physics. After three years of service in the US Navy, he worked for several years as an engineer.  In 1965 – married, with children – he became a 1L at Stanford Law School and had a brilliant student career.  After law school he worked as an associate for one year with the firm then known as Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1969.  Until last week, he never left.

From the beginning of his career John was fascinated by the intersections of science, law, and society.  He worked on nuclear weapons control, environmental problems, and human health, almost always with an international field of vision.  From his earliest faculty days through his death, he did not care whether he was doing traditional law professor work – he worked with scientists, lawyers, policy-makers, and anyone else in his effort to make the world a better place.

John was a man of integrity so great that I’m not sure he ever noticed it – I believe it never occurred him not to do the right thing.  He combined curiosity, intellectual rigor, and compassion better than anyone I have known.  He was a great mentor, a great friend, and a very good man. His friends, Stanford Law School, and the world are all diminished by his too early death, but we are all better as a result of his life.

Hank Greely


One response to “Professor John Barton is dead

  1. I got this e mail from one of John’s former students. She asked that I post it on the blog, which I am happy to do. I am sure she speaks for many of his students, particularly his JSD students, over the years.

    * * *

    Dear Professor Greely,

    I was Professor Barton’s last SJD student and went back to Stanford for my oral defense in June 2007 on my dissertation entitled the role of patent in China’s biotechnology and pharamceutical industries. Hope you still remember me because you, along with Professor Barton and Professor Lemley, were a member of my dissertation reading committee.

    I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news of Professor Barton’s sudden death. I only heard this terrible news today and am still in a state of disbelief. I regret that I have not stayed in close contact with him lately.
    The last time we wrote to each other was Feburary this year. He wrote a
    foreword for my new book which is based on my JSD dissertation and which is scheduled to be published this year by Edward Elgar. I regret that I have not worked hard enough to have the book published earlier so that he would have a chance to see it — a result of his 5 years supervision. I read the article you wrote about his death in the website of your center, and want to share my sad feeling with you. Hope you don’t mind. I miss him so much! 6 years of working with him as his JSM and JSD student has a profound impact on my academic life and scholarship. I have been strongly influenced by his broad knowledge of law, technologies and society, his intellectual curiosity, his working ethics, his kindness, and his love for the mankind. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to be his student, and he will live in my heart as a great mentor forever.

    If possible, you may publish this email letter on the website of your center to show how he is missed by his student.

    With best regards,
    Yahong Li (JSM and JSD, Stanford)

    Associate Professor
    Faculty of Law
    The University of Hong Kong

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