John Reed, 99, Taught Law at Michigan, Yale and Harvard

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 03/09/2018 - 18:16

John Wesley Reed, of Ann Arbor, age 99, died peacefully on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.  

He was born December 11, 1918, in Independence, MO, the only child of Novus Homo E. and Lilian (Houchens) Reed. John began his academic career at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO, continued at Cornell Law School, Ithaca, NY, and completed his studies at Columbia Law School in NY, NY.  His professional career began in Kansas City, MO, as a practicing attorney.  

After acknowledging that teaching was his passion, he joined the faculty of the University of Oklahoma Law School.  Thus began his brilliant and storied career in academia. In 1949, he moved to Ann Arbor, MI, to become a member of the University of Michigan Law School faculty.  After a half century, he retired from teaching. Before his retirement, he was named as the Thomas M Cooley Professor of Law.  His tenure at Michigan was interspersed with visiting professorships at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, NYU and San Diego.  He also served as dean of the University of Colorado and Wayne State University Law Schools and the director of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education at the University of Michigan.

He was particularly proud to have received the Legacy Award from the Bar Association of Michigan, an exceptional honor bestowed by his peers in recognition of John’s contributions to the legal profession and the values imbued in John’s every breath. John believed that education must go beyond the classroom.  With enthusiasm and quiet generosity, he devoted time, energy, and personal resources promoting, supporting and guiding many organizations such as the University Musical Society, Ministers & Missionaries Fund of the American Baptist Churches and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

John loved great music and was a member and director of the First Baptist Church choirs, both in Boulder, CO and Ann Arbor, MI. In1981, John became the Administrative Secretary of the International Society of Barristers.  This group became the perfect forum for a man who was an eloquent and ardent advocate for justice and service through the legal profession.  His speeches at the yearly meetings were renowned for serving as an ethical and moral compass for practicing lawyers worldwide. Beyond the barristers, those in John’s audiences who were not schooled in the law were equally enthralled, and moved to greater social action and to a deeper conscience. While John’s career was a focal point of his life, he was also a devoted and generous family man.  

In 1946, John married Ivy Vonada and they had three children, Alison, Mark and Randy.  The marriage ended in divorce. For several years, John was a single parent, raising three young children, teaching at the U-M Law School, and directing the choir at his beloved First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. To his children, he made it feel seamless.

During Christmas of 1960, John met Dorothy Floyd Jodoin, a widow with two daughters, Suzanne and Victoria. On March 5, 1961, John, Dot and their five young children were united in marriage.  With courage and faith, he and Dot undertook the daunting task of raising their children, the oldest of whom was ten.  They unified the two families with wisdom and grace.  Their marriage was a remarkable, strong and elegantly romantic partnership of 51 years, ending in 2012 with Dot’s death. The sweetest and deepest legacy he leaves is as a devoted husband to Dot and the heart-wide-open father of five children, eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.

John was a man of great faith.  He was a soul-deep American Baptist who lived his faith daily by example and service.

John is survived by 3 daughters, Alison (Jim) Robison of Saline, MI, Victoria (Walt) Peter of Reston, VA, and Suzanne (Peter) Unger of Pinckney, MI; 8 grandchildren, Stephen (Jamie) Robison, Emily (Kyle) Travis, Courtney (Pedro) Marques, Walter Peter IV, Christian (Lora) Peter, Wesley Unger, Elaine Unger, and Mark (Staci) Reed; 9 great-grandchildren and counting, Olive Peter, Boaz Peter, Reed Marques, Sloane Marques, Kate Reed, Jack Reed, Grant Reed, Madison Travis, Lukas Robison and Ruby Robison due any moment; his sister-in-law Esther Floyd of Ann Arbor; and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, Dorothy, and his two sons, Mark and Randy.  A Memorial Service celebrating John’s life will be held at1:00 P.M. on Saturday, March 17, 2018 at First Baptist Church,517 E. Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI with the Revs. Paul and Stacey Simpson Duke presiding.  A reception will follow after the service. Memorial contributions may be made to The Residence at Arbor Hospice 2366 Oak Valley Dr., Ann Arbor, MI  48103; M & M Retirement Fund of the American Baptist Churches, 475 Riverside Dr. Suite 1700, New York, NY  10115-0049; The Innocence Project 40 Worth St. Suite 701  New York, NY 10013. Arrangements entrusted to the Robison-Bahnmiller Funeral Home Saline, MI. To sign John’s guestbook, to leave a memory, or for more information and directions, please visit


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