Legal scholar Gordon Brewster Baldwin dies in Italy

October 16, 2006 By Dennis Chaptman

Gordon Brewster Baldwin, a distinguished constitutional and foreign relations law scholar at the University of Wisconsin Law School, died in his sleep this past weekend after attending an opera in Italy with his wife, Helen.

Photo of bikes and shadows

Law professor emeritus Gordon Baldwin talking during an interview in 2003 in his Law School office.

Photo: Michael Forster Rothbart

“Gordon Baldwin was a beloved member of our faculty for almost five decades,” says Law School Dean Kenneth B. Davis. “He was an expert on constitutional law and governmental affairs, and was frequently called upon to serve the public good. Sometimes a contrarian voice, he made many rethink their positions and we are wiser as a result.”

Baldwin, 77, began teaching at the Law School in 1957, fresh off his first teaching assignment at the Judge Advocate General School at the University of Virginia. There, he taught principles of international law while serving as an Army lawyer in the Pentagon.

Former Dean Jack Ritchie hired Baldwin to teach a one-semester course for a professor who was ill, but Baldwin stayed on and built a nationally respected career at the UW Law School.

“I appreciate law in action – one of the reasons I was hired was to teach international law, as opposed to doctrinal law,” Baldwin said in a recent article.

Baldwin’s colleagues say his passing will leave a tremendous void at the school.

“Gordon was learned, courteous, giving, self-effacing, witty and interesting,” says Frank Tuerkheimer, another Law School emeritus professor. “Gordon was unique as the term is applied to someone who was himself, but never obtrusively, and always the model of cordiality and understanding.”

That warmth was one of his trademarks, colleagues say.

Leslie Shear, a clinical assistant professor and director of the Family Law Project, had an office two doors down from Baldwin at the law firm of Murphy and Desmond, where Baldwin also worked for a time.

“I always knew Gordon was around because the sweet smell of his pipe would greet me as I turned the corner at the end of the hallway,” Shear recalls. “Gordon would always invite me to come in and sit down and chat about whatever might be going on in the legal news world — he was a true gentleman.”

From 1971-99, Baldwin served as director of officer education for ROTC on campus. He also held the post of counselor on international law for the U.S. State Department from 1975-76 and was a delegate to the United Nations Conference on Charter Review in 1976.

Baldwin successfully argued Welsh v. Wisconsin before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983. In the case, justices ruled that the warrantless, night-time entry of a Wisconsin man’s home to arrest him for a civil, non-jailable traffic offense was barred by the Fourth Amendment.

In addition, Baldwin was a visiting professor in Japan, Germany, Russia and Thailand in the 1980s and 1990s, and was a Fulbright professor in Egypt, Iran and Cyprus in the 1960s and 1970s. He also taught at the U.S. Naval War College in 1963-64.

John Kidwell, an emeritus law professor, says that Baldwin’s strong beliefs did not render him insensitive to the arguments of others.

“He was a man of principles, but he was never dogmatic about them. He was more open-minded than most of us, I think,” Kidwell says. “He was among what seems to be a vanishing breed of lawyers – true professionals whose loyalty to the principles of the profession ran extremely deep.”

Davis says faculty and staff at the Law School will miss his robust greeting of, “Cheers!” as he walked down the hallway.

“While he sometimes sought to play the curmudgeon, his inherent good cheer usually precluded him from being all that convincing. I will miss him deeply as a colleague and friend,” Davis adds.

Stewart Macaulay, a law professor who was hired at the same time as Baldwin, recalled the bald-headed Baldwin’s gift of humor even as he struggled with cancer over the past few months.

“When I learned of Gordon’s cancer, I tried to say something appropriate and helpful,” Macaulay says. “Gordon didn’t want to talk. He did say that he might have to have chemotherapy. Then he said, ‘And you know, I’ve heard it might make your hair fall out.’ Pure Gordon.”

Baldwin’s well-known sense of humor was evident in an article for the spring edition of the Law School’s alumni magazine, in which Baldwin was quoted as saying: “I’ve never had any difficulty standing up in front of people. I’m not self-conscious. I’m not shy. Many times I’ve talked about something about which I knew nothing – and that’s not likely to stop.”

Baldwin was also active in state government, chairing the State Public Defender Board in 1981-82, the Wisconsin Elections Board in 1992 and was appointed to the State Ethics Board in 2000.

Baldwin also took pride in his service to Rotary International. He was a past president of the Madison Downtown Rotary and Madison Rotary Foundation and served as district governor for Rotary District 6250 in 1999-2000.

Plans for services have not yet been announced.

Tags: obituaries