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Elwin Griffith, influential dean and advocate, dies at age 77

He was a law expert who chased his passion across international waters and the United States. He was an active member of his church, and could often be found at choir practice or sharing his views on social issues at various committee meetings. Elwin Griffith, who served as dean for the College of Law from 1979 to 1986, died February 26 after a battle with cancer. He was 77. 

“Elwin was a very unifying and stabilizing influence on the law school during his seven years as dean,” says Bruce Ottley, a professor in the College of Law, who joined DePaul the same year as Griffith. “The school had gone through some difficult ‘coming of age’ times in the mid-1970s, and Elwin returned the focus to teaching and scholarship. That influence has resonated ever since.”

A native of Barbados, Griffith began his academic law career at the age of 17 when he immigrated to the United States to attend Long Island University – Brooklyn, and later New York University. In 1962 he began his teaching career at Cleveland Marshall University in Ohio. After two more faculty positions at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and the University of Cincinnati, Griffith and his budding family moved to Chicago in the late 1970s. It is there he took the position of dean of the College of Law at DePaul University. 

“He was the first person of color to be dean for the College of Law,” Ottley says. “The late 1970s was a time when women and minorities were just beginning to entire the field of law education, and Elwin opened the door for many of them by hiring of number of excellent young academics.” 

After serving seven years as dean at DePaul, Griffith stepped down in order to return to his first love: teaching. He and his family moved to Tallahassee where he continued his career at Florida State University, where he served as the director of the Caribbean Law Institute. Beyond teaching, his academic writings went on to be cited as a source of research for the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal appeals system. In 2015 he retired from FSU and became professor emeritus. 

“He was a true gentleman and legal scholar,” Ottley remembers. “He truly left the College of Law a much better place.” 

Memorial donations can be made to the FSU College of Law for the Elwin J. Griffith Memorial Scholarship.