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May 28, 2010

Professor Emeritus George M. Platt: 1926-2010

By Professor Emeritus Don Brodie

Prof. Platt began his career as a journalist. He worked for newspapers in Illinois and for a major magazine in New York City. Those were the days when editors ruled supreme when reviewing the journalist’s work and George doubtlessly became a wordsmith in the process. Journalists see a world that most people never experience, and those experiences may have been formative in the way he viewed things.

In 1956 he graduated from the University of Illinois law school and was admitted to the Illinois bar. While in practice in Illinois he became a legislative draftsman, counsel to various legislative committees, and to the governor of Illinois. This type of work emphasizes the highly technical aspects of law, and doubtlessly affected his academic publications and the way he taught.

Prof. Platt came to the University of Oregon in 1966, and taught for over 30 years. The 1960s and the 1970s were tumultuous for the nation, for the University and for the law school. The law school was going through a change from the traditional “strong Dean,” style of administration to the more faculty and student centric type of operation. A new law building and a new curriculum with a much larger student body were being planned. There were many basic issues to be resolved. There were some potentially explosive items and it could cause a new faculty member without tenure to be apprehensive. However, the issues were resolved without creating permanent divisions, at least at that time, and without rancor and with remarkable cooperation.

In 1968, he was the Reporter for the Oregon Criminal Law Review Commission. The Commission’s work result in a complete rewrite of the Oregon Criminal Law Code of the time.

George held strong traditional views and the times in the 1960s were “a-changing”. When the Guard and police were called in to “protect” the university during a period of student unrest, the law faculty patrolled the perimeter of the law building (Fenton Hall) into the evening. This was not a duty that new, untenured faculty had expected. However, he could not let the “hippie” “flower power” scene pass without some cryptic comments as well as great humor. “Political correctness” was not part of his makeup, and he minced no words in his comments. Having stated his point of view, he moved on, which was the legislative way of doing things, at least then. When George disagreed with others, he was not argumentative and he could continue to cooperate with those who may have disagreed with him. Such was not always the case for others around the university, or in society, for that matter.

Prof. Platt taught a variety of courses during his more than 30 years on the faculty. They included criminal law, land use, secured land transactions, local government, and commercial law. Unsurprisingly, these courses were focused on statutes and are highly technical, reflecting his background. They also were frequently “bar courses,” mainstream material in the traditional practice of law.

He was an extremely private person, not inclined to be social. Some people never saw beyond that initial barrier. He was a very family centric person. He and Connie had three children — Tom, an environmentalist and renewable energy businessperson; Dan, deceased; and Ellen, a law librarian at Santa Clara University.

George had numerous hobbies. He was an avid reader of all forms of writing but especially enjoyed travel, biography, and history. He had a very large collection of movies, and he could discuss them at great length. He was an excellent fly fisherman, and tied his own flies. He was a “catch and release” person, not surprising since he did not like the taste of fish. He was well-known at the local fly fishing shops and a “go to” person for “where they are biting” and “what was the fly to use”. He was also a great baseball fan and could converse at length with other serious baseball fans.

He was a very humorous man, although his humor was subtle. If one did not listen carefully, it was easy to miss. He was not a person who would use the “have you heard” type of jokes, but the humor was in the context of what was being said or what was happening, and usually involved some sort of wordplay. He rejected all forms of “pomp and circumstance,” and could not let the many instances of it around the law school pass without a wry comment. While strongly traditional in many of his views, his politics were on the left. He was deeply concerned about the issues of ordinary people. As an aside, during the 2008 presidential campaign, George was using a cane, but he referred to it as “my stick.” He explained, with a very slight smile, that the phrase “my cane” might be viewed as an unintended endorsement of the Republican candidate.

He was no fan of technology, with the exceptions of movie recording and playback equipment, and high tech fishing gear. When computers were first being put in faculty offices, he absolutely refused to have one in view. However, it was not enough to ban the thing from his office. In his typical fashion, George made a further statement by putting one of the oldest typewriters in the law school on the computer table, and the school had some very old typewriters. He never used the typewriter either. His work was laboriously handwritten. His classroom notes looked almost like a handwritten book, with complete sentences, paragraphing, and so on.

George was the associate dean for two deans. When he stepped down, it was so that the then new dean would have an opportunity to select “his own person.” That was the legislative way of doing things. The school, as we know it today, was formed during the early part of Prof. Platt’s career and the school was made better, in part, by his participation.

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