Harry Wellington, former Yale Law dean, dies

Harry H. Wellington, Sterling Professor Emeritus and former dean of Yale Law School, died at his home in New York City Monday morning. He was 84.

Wellington became a professor at Yale Law in 1956, where he focused his research on the intersection of contracts, labor laws and collective bargaining, and served as dean of the school from 1975 to 1985. A professorial lectureship at Yale Law was established in his honor in 1995. Colleagues and friends remembered him as a friend and brilliant scholar.

“This is a very somber, sad moment for the Yale Law School,” said Yale Law Dean Robert Post LAW ’77 in an email to the law school community.

According to the New York Times, the cause of death was a brain tumor.

Yale Law Professor John Simon LAW ’53, Wellington’s colleague and friend, described him as a “wonderful scholar,” dedicated dean and devoted friend. Wellington had a tremendous sense of humor, said Simon, and always knew how to help a friend in need.

“Back in 1962, when I was thinking of joining the faculty at Yale, Harry was partly responsible for my deciding to come here,” Simon said. “Harry was influential, persuasive and humorous, and we remained friends ever since.”

As a scholar, Wellington distinguished himself in the fields of labor law and constitutional law, Simon said. Wellington, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard, published numerous articles and books, including “Labor and the Legal Process” and “Interpreting the Constitution.”

Guido Calabresi ’53 LAW ’58, former dean and Sterling professor emeritus, said Wellington was a great teacher who cared for and cultivated his students.

“He had a particular quality of attracting to him the most interesting, smartest students at the law school and, in a very quiet and modest way, helping to shape them,” Calabresi said. “He would make you think beyond your own narrow canonical way because he had such enormous peripheral vision. He was a great scholar, teacher, and dean. I don’t think anybody has been better than he.”

As dean, Wellington was highly successful at recruiting new faculty members, said Calabresi. One of his recruits, Sterling Professor of Law Anthony Kronman GRD ’72 LAW ’75, went on to also serve as dean of the school.

Calabresi added that Wellington also developed the idea for Yale Law’s loan forgiveness program for students who decide to work in public interest law. Now, the Career Options Assistance Program forgives portions of student loans for those who work in smaller firms, nonprofit organizations, public interest law, government service or academia. Students who make less than $60,000 annually do not have to contribute at all.

In addition to his contributions to Yale, Wellington served as dean of New York Law School from 1992-2000 and as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

He is survived by his wife Sheila Wellington ARC ’68 SPH ’68, his sons John Wellington ’81 and Thomas Wellington SPH ’88, his daughter-in-law Lenni Benson and two grandchildren Max and Lily. In his email, Post said he was notified of the family’s plans for a private interment.

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