In Memoriam: Roger F. Jacobs, Professor Emeritus of Law

Author: Ed Edmonds


Roger F. Jacobs, Professor Emeritus of Law and former long-time Associate Dean and Director of the Kresge Law Library, died on April 17, 2024, in Terre Haute, Indiana at the age of 87.

Roger was born in Detroit and spent many of his adolescent years in Cleveland before moving back with his family to Detroit. He enlisted in the Navy after high school and served for four years including tours on a destroyer in San Diego, time at sea off of Japan and China, and on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay. He was awarded the Korean Service Medal. After returning home, he matriculated as an undergraduate at the University of Detroit.

As an undergraduate, Roger used his previous library work experience to obtain student employment in the University of Detroit’s library and then its law library. He received his A.B. in 1962. While continuing to work at his alma mater, he enrolled in library school at the University of Michigan and graduated with an A.M.L.S. in 1964.

Following receipt of his library degree from Michigan, Roger continued to work for the University of Detroit’s library but also enrolled in Detroit’s law school. Concurrent with his legal studies, he accepted an appointment as the founding library director at the University of Windsor Law School in Ontario, Canada in 1968. Roger received his J.D. from the University of Detroit in 1970.

In 1973, Roger left the University of Windsor to assume his second position as a founding law library director at Southern Illinois University. In 1978 he became the Librarian of the Supreme Court of the United States. Dean David T. Link persuaded Roger to leave his position at the Supreme Court to accept appointment as Director of the Kresge Law Library and professor of law at Notre Dame Law School in 1985 and promoted him to Associate Dean in 1990, positions he held until his retirement in 2006.

Patricia O’Hara, professor emerita of law, recalled: “I was a junior faculty member when Roger arrived at Notre Dame. In fairly short order, he hired an excellent team of research librarians and technical staff, boosted our collection by acquiring the Chicago Bar Association’s holdings with a major gift, and began cultivating what became 34 named library endowments. Roger was the first person I approached when appointed as dean in 1999 to persuade him to remain on the leadership team. His impeccable judgment, wise counsel and affable spirit made him beloved within the Law School. He was also recognized with the President’s Award in 2000 for his service to the wider University community, as well as the Grenville Clark Award in 2001 for volunteer activities advancing peace and human rights beyond the University. Towards the end of his tenure, Roger played the lead role in the complete redesign of the Kresge Law Library in connection with the renovation of Biolchini Hall. Roger’s twenty years of transformative service left a legacy of excellence on which his successor, Ed Edmonds, and our current Director, Thomas Mills, have built.”

Professor Emeritus Tex Dutile echoed Roger’s myriad contributions to the Law School: “Roger was the consummate colleague. He headed the Law Library during years of unprecedented growth, all the while shepherding it gracefully into the digital age. He was an active member of the teaching & research faculty and served on countless committees.”

Professor Emeritus Jack Pratt recalled: “Instead of tarrying over words, Roger acted. He acted foremost as a man of faith. He wore his faith gently, recalling the admonition of the prophet Micah that we ‘act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.’ Roger did just that. Through him we saw God working in our lives and in the Law School community. Always though, it was the Library which was at the heart of Roger’s efforts – and closest to his heart were ‘his people’ for Roger knew that a library begins not with books, but with people.”

Widely recognized nationally but ever humble, Roger may have most treasured the high regard of ‘his people.’ Michael Slinger, a member of the Kresge Law Library when Roger was first hired, remembered: “The core of Roger’s professional philosophy was: 1. Do everything possible to support the work of the students and faculty served; 2. Defend your principles, and 3. Support your staff. Roger not only mentored me into becoming a law library director in my own right, but also into becoming a better person.” Joseph Thomas, Librarian Emeritus at Notre Dame and currently Library Director of Cushwa-Leighton Library at St. Mary’s College, recalled: “In building the law library, Roger recognized the ‘behind the scenes’ work that was necessary to make the growing collection effective. He fully supported those of us whose job was to select, organize, and make accessible the materials that created the infrastructure for a great research library.” Dan Manier, the Director of Law School Technology, remarked: “Roger was a visionary leader, mentor, and friend. He genuinely cared about everyone with whom he worked and treated everyone with an equal level of respect, no matter their title.”

Dwight King, emeritus associate director for research & instruction, worked with Roger for over 20 years. He said, "Roger forever changed my life and career--and the lives of my family. In 1986, he hired me at Notre Dame. He was a terrific library director, always intent on advancing the careers of those in his charge. I admired his willingness to help the less fortunate through his work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He was a good man. I will always be indebted to him."

Beyond Notre Dame Roger was extremely active in professional library associations within the academy. He served as the third President of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries from 1971-1973 and as President of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) from 1981-1982. In 2007 Roger received the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award, the AALL’s highest honor, and, in 2010, he was inducted into the AALL’s Hall of Fame. The Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section of AALL honored him with the Frederick Charles Hicks Award for Outstanding Contributions to Academic Law Librarianship in 2006. He also served as a Council Member of the American Bar Association’s Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar from 1990-1996. Janis Johnston, who worked at the Kresge Law Library from 1985-1999 before becoming the Director of the Jenner Memorial Law Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law, commented: “Roger knew that his staff’s success, hence the library’s success, was dependent on having ample opportunities for professional growth both within the library and in the larger profession. He encouraged us to be active AALL members knowing that through service we would support our profession and enrich our own lives.”

The respect of his Law School colleagues was not limited to Roger’s professional contributions at Notre Dame and within the wider academy. Matt Barrett, Professor Emeritus of Law, recalled his extensive service to the local community: “Roger was a holy, kind, and humble Christian, whose faith called him to serve others, especially the less fortunate. For almost three decades, he graciously led the St. Vincent de Paul Society conference at our parish as President, while his wife Alice served as Secretary. In 2015, The South Bend Tribune named the couple to its first class of ‘Hometown Heroes’ for their service to the South Bend community.”

Roger is survived by Alice, his wife of 60 years; a son, Stephen; his two daughters, Magdalene Snyder, Sarah Wurtz, and their spouses; five siblings and many grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. His memory will live large within the legal academy, Notre Dame, and the circle of his family.