Gordon Schaber, who transformed McGeorge School of Law from an unaccredited night school into a home of judges, political figures and a Supreme Court justice during his 34 years as dean, died Thursday.
He died at his home of renal failure, 12 days after deciding to discontinue thrice-weekly kidney dialysis treatments, said McGeorge spokesman Mike Curran. Schaber was 69.
Schaber became dean of the law school in 1957 and was, at 29, the youngest law school dean in the country. He retired as dean in 1991, but continued to be a university counselor and law professor.
“As a lawyer, as a judge and then as the dean of American law school deans, Gordon Schaber made a dynamic, lasting contribution to the rule of law,” said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who taught constitutional law at McGeorge for 23 years and considered Schaber a mentor. “He will be remembered for his great legal accomplishments. And those of us who knew him will remember him for his warmth, his charm and his unfailing humanity.”
After Kennedy joined the Supreme Court, his annual financial disclosure form regularly included a gift of $400 in shirts from Schaber.
Thomas Cecil, presiding judge of the Sacramento Superior and Municipal courts, said Schaber was the driving force behind the transformation of McGeorge from a small unaccredited night school into a fully accredited leader in legal education. More than 160 judges, including Cecil, are among its alumni, as well a congressman, three members of the California Legislature and four county district attorneys.
Schaber moved the school from the second floor of a downtown Sacramento building to a former clinic in the Oak Park section of town. He directed its expansion from one building to a 22-acre campus. It became accredited by the state Committee of Bar Examiners in 1964 and by the American Bar Assn. in 1968. It merged with the University of the Pacific, located in Stockton, in 1966.
Born in Ashley, N.D., Schaber and his family moved to Sacramento in 1938. He had polio as a child, but was his high school valedictorian and graduated from what is now Cal State Sacramento and UC’s Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. He was presiding judge of Sacramento Superior Court from 1965 to 1970.
Schaber over the years had several gubernatorial appointments, including seats on the State Board of Control and the California Educational Facilities Authority.
A public memorial service is scheduled for Nov. 22 in Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. Funeral services are private.