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Losing a Legend

Beloved professor Sanford Katz passes away at the age of 90.

At professor Katz’s retirement, 2015. 

The BC Law community is mourning the loss of Professor Emeritus Sanford Katz, who passed away on February 10, 2024 at 90 years of age. A fixture on campus for nearly half a century, Professor Katz, who primarily taught family law and contracts, was a brilliant scholar and beloved figure who influenced generations of students, faculty and administrators, and the profession.

Professor Katz graduated from Boston University and the University of Chicago Law School, and was a U.S. Public Health Fellow at Yale Law School. He clerked for Chief Judge Marvin Jones, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, in 1958-59, and served in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Division and at the Pentagon. He then taught at several law schools including Catholic University Law School and the University of Florida before joining Boston College Law School in 1968. At BC Law, he was eventually named the inaugural holder of The Darald and Juliet Libby Chair in honor of Michael G. Pierce, SJ.

It is difficult to overstate Professor Katz’s influence in the field of family law. He served as Chairman of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association, President of the International Society of Family Law and Editor-in Chief of the Family Law Quarterly. He was a member of various editorial boards of journals and, in addition to his numerous published articles and books, was the chief drafter of model child welfare legislation for the federal government. He was a Special Contributor and Consultant for Law for the Fourth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Professor Katz was also an invited Fellow at All Souls College at Oxford, In 2016, nineteen eminent scholars from Great Britain and America published a volume of legal essays in his honor.

According to his obituary, Professor Katz is survived by his wife of over sixty-five years, Joan, his sons Daniel and his wife Meg Parsont, and Andrew and his wife Denise Padilla; his grandchildren Lucia and Salvador Katz; his sister Eleanor Shrier, and several extended family members. A funeral service was held at Temple Shalom in Newton on February 15.

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations in Sanford’s memory be made to Boston College Law School.

In honor of his 90th birthday, BC Law Magazine recently published a series of anecdotes and memories from those who knew and loved Professor Katz. Read those here.

This article was updated on February 15 with the following remarks from colleagues:

Sanford Katz was so special, and on so many levels. Because he was one of us, and a humble man, we often did not fully appreciate his colossal international reputation as a scholar. He was, in fact, the best-known scholar and teacher in the world in one of law’s most important subjects, the human family. In partnership with another very special leader in the field, [BC Law Professor Emerita] Ruth-Arlene Howe, he made our school internationally famous.

But, he, himself, would emphasize something else. Generations of students looked to him as the essence of a great law school teacher, and even more important, was the concern and care which he dedicated to every student. Wherever we go, we meet alumni who say Sanford changed their lives.

More selfishly for us, there was Sanford our colleague, never too busy to lend a helping hand or much needed encouragement. Every institution needs a spiritual leader who stands for its values and ceaselessly promotes its best with integrity. For Boston College Law School, that was Sanford.

Then there was Sanford the family man, devoted husband of Joan—a great institutional presence in her own right—and his children and grandchildren. And, finally, there was Sanford, our friend.

Every one of us has had moments when we have needed help and counsel from someone we can really trust. As Dean [1985-1993], I always knew who I could turn to when things looked grim, or if I simply could not figure out the right thing to do. Long afterwards, he was my inspiration and my source of guidance. And so, he has been to so many. I feel, in some special way, he still is.

We all owe Sanford a great debt. His memory is all around us, in our buildings, our colleagues, his thousands of students, and a place in our hearts.—J. Donald Monan, SJ, University Professor Daniel R. Coquillette

When I was a twenty-something and a law student at BC during the 1970’s, Sanford was already a fixture and an institution at BC Law. The annual Law Revue shows started during my first year. I participated in the show all three years. In one how, Sanford played himself in a skit. He was absolutely wonderful and he brought down the house! 

I was so impressed by how human and down to earth he was. So many of our faculty members were like that and they did so much to make BC Law a great place to study law.

When I was a sixty-something and working at BC Law School and living at the Jesuit Community on main campus, I would see Sanford from time to time in our dining room when he would be having lunch with Frank Herrmann, SJ. I would always go over to say hello and he would invite me to sit or he would come over to my table and always have a great story to tell. I was blessed to know him.  I was blessed to have him as a role model. I was blessed to have him as a friend. May his memory be a blessing!—Frederick Enman ’78, SJ

As a former student and colleague of Professor Katz, I cannot refrain from sharing my own favorite “Katz” story.

Because legal practice faculty work so closely with our 1Ls, we tend to hear a lot about a LOT. During the Obama Administration (this is relevant, so stay with me) Chris, one of my 1Ls, was complaining about Sanford’s Contracts class. It wasn’t actually a Sanford-thing; Chris just did not like the subject matter. I encouraged him to reframe this experience as an important 1L rite of passage and networking hidden treasure since (especially back then), Sanford’s countless former students would pack any alumni gathering anywhere, anytime. 

A few semesters later, this same student found himself in Mexico City as a Fulbright Scholar. He attended an event where BC Law alum and President Obama’s then US Secretary of State, John Kerry ’76, was the headliner.  As the event concluded, the biggest crowd formed around Sec’y Kerry. Chris was eager to connect, but was grossly outnumbered. 

So, he jumped on a table and shouted, “I had Professor Katz!!!” 

That was it. Nothing about BC Law—just “I had Professor Katz!” 

Kerry stopped, looked up, realized what Chris was saying, and immediately plowed through the crowd to connect. Kerry shook Chris’s hand with genuine enthusiasm. They spoke for close to a half hour and bonded over Professor Katz anecdotes. When Kerry invited Chris to contact him in DC, Chris did. And, as is typical for our alums, John Kerry was helpful and encouraging then and going forward.

Sanford Katz had fun in the classroom and was devoted to his students. Former colleagues were lucky to share a coffee with him as he spun one of his long and amusing stories. Former students were even luckier to share a classroom with him.—John C. Ford, SJ, Distinguished Scholar Mary Ann Chirba ’81