By John Bonine
Chapin Clark was dean when the University of Oregon Law School faculty hired me in 1977. He was a giant of a man — a wide-screen thinker, well-liked among the bar in Oregon, collegial with his faculty colleagues to the utmost degree — and one of the nicest men I ever knew.
It is impossible to express in words the hole that his death leaves in our hearts.
Chapin in particular helped shape the school’s environmental law programs — having the vision in the 1970s to promote our school as a center for environmental and natural resources law, supporting first Frank Barry and Charles Wilkinson, and then Dick Hildreth and me, and others to follow after his tenure as dean, all working to make this the wonderful place that it is for environmental law teaching and learning. He also had the courage to help us launch the world-renowned Environmental Law Clinic, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, now replicated on several continents. His impact went far beyond those areas of the curriculum, obviously. See, for example, Charles Wilkinson’s 'A Tribute to Chapin Clark,' 71 Oregon Law Rev. 241 (1992)
Chapin was crafty in some things when it came to the law school’s needs. I recall his saying to me, early in my career, 'John, I think it would be good for your development as a teacher to have a class of first-year students.' I didn’t realize that he was looking around for a way to fill a vacant teaching slot and I was his target. Agreeing in complete innocence, I soon found myself in the exhilarating and frustrating (for my students) experience of teaching Legislative and Administrative Processes for something like 20 years.
It is appropriate that Chapin met his end on a raft trip on the Rogue River, doing what he loved the most: vigorous outdoor activities. When I arrived at the law school, I soon learned that a tradition existed of the Annual Law Faculty Climb of Mount Washington. The faculty would go up to Chapin’s cabin on the Metolius River for the weekend, and on Saturday morning set out early from Big Lake up to Mt. Washington. It’s a nice climb — mostly a hike, actually, except for two rope-lengths where the more cautious tie in. To stand on top and gaze at the important mountains around must have been something like Chapin’s feelings as dean, standing on top and gazing at the great faculty that he helped to build.
I recall learning from Chapin that he had had quite an experience on an earlier wilderness hike, in which he twisted an ankle, had to be carried out by some sort of rescue crew, and worried the whole time that the rescue crew might be met at the trailhead by a Register-Guard photographer: 'Law Dean Rescued from Wilderness.'
Chapin loved walking in Britain and other places, and obviously treated retirement as giving him the freedom for more travel and walking.
Perhaps even more than the land, Chapin was a man of Oregon’s water. Loren Eiseley wrote in The Immense Journey, 'If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.' And Norman Maclean wrote at the end of A River Runs Through It, 'I am haunted by waters.'
Former Chair of the Oregon Water Policy Review Board, scholar of Water Law, expert relied upon for his insights and wisdom, Chapin wrote extensively on Western water law, including an article on proposals to divert Columbia River water to the Southwest and the first Survey of Oregon Water Law. He was on the advisory board of the Oregon Water Trust. He used mediation to help resolve problems.
Chapin was haunted by waters.
It is typical that Chapin found himself on the wild Rogue River when the rest of us were in the classroom. When rafting, kayaking or white-water canoeing, we talk about the 'river gods' and how they sometimes reach up and upset our boats. It appears that the river gods claimed him as one of their own. We all go sometime, and with Chapin, much too prematurely. But he is in the hands of friends. I have a feeling that he and the river gods are having an argument right now about some fine point of water law, or perhaps just an appreciation of the importance of water in our life.
As for myself, I think about the importance of some people in our lives, and how what touches our minds and our hearts from one person reaches beyond mortal life to yet generations of others, particularly when we are teachers. Chapin touched mine.
I will lift a glass of water in toast to Chapin.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Bonine’s background includes work with the U.S. Senate, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and 24 years as a professor of law. He cofounded the world’s first environmental law clinic, the student-run Public Interest Environmental Law Conference and the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (E-LAW).
© 2003 John Bonine