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The ‘Big Man’ Remembered

Professor Peter Donovan ’60 gets the last laugh.

November 5, 2016 -- The 2016 Boston College Law School reunion at the Ritz Carlton. Photographed for Boston College by Caitlin Cunningham (  Photograph by Caitlin Cunningham

Beloved professor and “lawyer’s lawyer” Peter Donovan ’60, admired for his brilliance and adored for his commitment to students, passed away in February but not before his many admirers paid homage to him at a rollicking tribute during Reunion Weekend 2016.

“Peter was an authentic. Not a phony facet to him,” said Peter del Vecchio ’81, a former student who helped organize the reunion tribute. “He presented a gruff exterior, but had nothing but pure love and respect for his students. He was also a lot of fun.”

Indeed, Donovan got a huge kick out of the roasting he received at the event from members of the Class of 1981. After the singing and storytelling, his admirers presented to him and his wife Eleanor a glass portrait of Donovan and a pair of signed bowling pins.

A specialist in products liability and antitrust law, Donovan was also a central figure in building BC Law’s oral advocacy programs, serving as faculty advisor for the two-time national champion moot court team and mentoring generations of students in competitions.

BC Law Professor Robert Bloom ’71, who was both a student and colleague of Donovan, remembered him as not only a great teacher but also as a lawyer’s lawyer. “His lawyering was absolutely the best; attorneys from all over would come to him for his lawyering,” Bloom said.

Donovan’s classrooms could be scary places. He once had this to say about his torts class: “I consider myself a teddy bear that people like to hug. I’d obviously hide that part of my personality because in their first year, I want students to work harder than they’ve ever worked before, and if they’re afraid of you, they tend to work harder. So, maybe I do intimidate them, but we also have a lot of humor in class.”

As a BC Law student himself from 1957 to 1960, Donovan sparred vigorously with Professor Richard S. Sullivan, which provided Donovan with an important insight. “I love to argue,” he realized. Thus challenged, he rose to third in his class his first year. The next two, he was first.

After graduating from BC Law, Donovan worked in the antitrust division of the US Department of Justice, and earned an LLM from Georgetown Law Center and another from Harvard Law School. He taught at BC Law from until his retirement in 2002.