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December 8, 2006

J. Keith Mann, professor emeritus of law, dies at 82

By Lisa Trei

J. Keith Mann, an esteemed labor arbitrator who helped build Stanford Law School into one of the leading law schools in the country, died of pneumonia at Stanford Hospital on Nov. 27. He was 82.

A memorial service for Mann will be held at 5 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Law School's Moot Court Room followed by a reception in the school's faculty lounge.

"Keith was really one of the leaders of a new emerging group of post-World War II arbitrators," said William Gould, law professor emeritus. "He was highly regarded in labor law and labor arbitration. He was very important as a guy who was plugged into the real world and involved in making policy in very high-level disputes and, as a teacher, bringing it back to the classroom. The students had a high regard for him."

Mann joined the Law School in 1952, was associate dean for academic affairs from 1961 to 1985, and served as acting dean in 1976 and 1981-82. In these positions, Mann is credited with playing a central role in the school's emergence as one of the nation's top law schools. He became professor emeritus in 1988.

"Keith Mann was for many years a stalwart member of the Stanford Law School community," President Emeritus Richard Lyman wrote in an e-mail. "If I call him a utility infielder that is meant as a compliment: Whatever needed doing, he was there to do it with efficiency and integrity. Every institution needs a few people like Keith, but not every institution is lucky enough to have one. We'll miss him."

During the 1960s and 1970s, three U.S. presidents—John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon—appointed Mann to negotiate difficult national labor disputes. During the Kennedy administration, he helped settle a controversy between the Southern Pacific Company and railroad clerks, as well as a dispute between airlines and flight engineers. In 1967, Johnson appointed Mann chairman of a fact-finding board during a West Coast shipyard strike and, in 1971, Nixon selected him to head a board of inquiry into the extended dock strike. From 1980 to 1997, Mann served as special master in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a territorial dispute (United States v. Alaska, No. 84, Original) between the federal government and Alaska over ownership of parts of the seabed and offshore lands along Alaska's northeast coast.

Mann was born May 28, 1924, on his family's farm in Alexis, Ill. During World War II he was ineligible for the draft due to a high school football injury, but was admitted to the Navy Japanese Language School at the University of Colorado. After learning Japanese and completing the program, he served as a naval officer during the war and with the occupation forces in Tokyo and Korea. Mann went on to earn a bachelor's degree in Far Eastern Studies in 1948 and a law degree in 1949 from Indiana University. After graduation, Mann clerked for Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge and his successor, Sherman Minton. He practiced law in Washington, D.C., before working as special assistant to the chairman of the Wage Stabilization Board in 1951, and spent a year teaching at the University of Wisconsin before coming to Stanford.

Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Mann worked in adjacent offices during the 1949 term of the Supreme Court. "We have been fast friends ever since," Christopher said in a statement. "Until he retired, Keith was a vital part of the glue that held the Law School together, often serving as the bridge between the deans. Keith had many superb qualities, but the one I remember best was his acute sensitivity to the needs and hopes of others, professional and personal. That quality made him an indispensable friend to generations of students and professors, and to me."

Gould said that Mann was instrumental in bringing him to Stanford as the Law School's first African-American faculty member. "He was a goodwill ambassador for the university," Gould said. "I remember how very gracious and cordial he was to my parents. At one point, my father told me, 'He's on our side.' That's one of my most vivid memories. My father had a high regard for him." Gould recalled Mann's character as circumspect and enigmatic. "Keith Mann played his cards very close to his vest," he said. "That served him well in labor arbitration, in the Law School and the university."

In 1971, after Nixon asked Mann to help resolve the West Coast dock strike, the New York Times featured him as a "Man in the News." In the article, a colleague said of Mann: "He has the coolest head and most even temper of any human being I know. He manages to keep his perspective on any problem in the heat of the moment—something that's beyond most mortals and which is why I assume he's been chosen for this job."

Mann was a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators and law alumni fellow at Indiana University School of Law.

Mann is survived by his wife of 56 years, Virginia, of Palo Alto; his children, William Mann of San Francisco, Marilyn Mann of Kensington, Md., Kevin Mann of Richmond, Calif., Susan Mann of Chevy Chase, Md., and Andrew Mann of San Mateo; and three grandchildren.

The family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Class of 1955 Keith Mann Scholarship Fund, Stanford Law School, Crown Quadrangle, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, CA 94305-8610.

Editor Note:

A photo of Mann is available at (slug: "mann_obit.jpg"). Source: Stanford University News Service Archives.



Lisa Trei, News Service: (650) 725-0224,


William Gould, Stanford Law School: (650) 723-2111,

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