Perry Wallace in front of 4801 Massachusetts building
Professor Perry Wallace. Photo credit: Lisa Nipp/The Tennessean

AUWCL Mourns the Loss of Professor Perry Wallace


Dec. 3, 2017

American University Washington College of Law is mourning the passing of our dear colleague Professor Perry Wallace.

“As many of you know, Perry was a champion on and off the basketball court, a civil rights activist, a gay rights activist, a leader of leaders, and a kind and gentle person,” said Dean Camille Nelson. “He will be greatly missed and his legacy will touch many lives for decades to come.”

Professor Wallace was the Director of our JD/MBA Dual Degree Program and for almost three decades served as a respected and cherished faculty colleague. He was a prolific and insightful scholar, a gifted and celebrated teacher, and an advisor and mentor to countless students and alumni who treasured his wise and nurturing counsel. As the first African-American to play varsity basketball in the Southeastern Conference, he was a trailblazer in many frontiers.

To many AUWCL community members, Professor Wallace’s calm and thoughtful voice spoke for the soul of our law school and for the values we hold dear. He embodied and championed hard work, inclusion, and the pursuit of excellence in all he did. He exemplified dignity, kindness, and perseverance in the face of unfairness. He leaves behind not just a law school community, but an entire nation edified and enriched by his wisdom, gracious example, and uplifting presence. Professor Wallace’s passing creates an unfillable void in our community, and in our hearts.

Please read these great tributes to Professor Wallace by The TennesseanThe Washington Post, WAMU, and American University.

Professor Wallace’s work left an indelibly positive mark on numerous AUWCL community members over decades. Brief statements sharing memories of and tributes to Professor Wallace may be submitted to for sharing with the broader AUWCL community via our website and with Professor Wallace’s family.

Further information about services will be shared with the community as it is learned.

Remembering Perry Wallace

Below are a selection of memories from the American University Washington College of Law community. 

"Dear Professor Wallace,

You taught me business law and were the first person to introduce me to the role of an attorney in economic justice. We had long conversations and your patience with me as a struggling law student is something I will never forget. You touched so many people lives and did so much to make this world a better place. You never brought up your past victories in the classroom –  instead you focused on making us better students, lawyers, and people.  You showed law students that class, humility, kindness, and never forgetting where you came from means something.

From the basketball court to the courtroom you were a real hero, a great man. Rest in Power and know your work continues!"

--Lydia Edwards ’06, Boston City Councilor Elect, District 1


“Others have noted Perry’s grace, warmth, kindness, wisdom, and other extraordinary qualities as a man and faculty colleague. He exuded moral authority and moral conscience. He chose his words carefully, but when he spoke—in committee meetings, at faculty meetings —we listened. For a person of such accomplishment, and one who had been exposed to such pain, he was a remarkably gentle soul who took issues and people seriously while deflecting praise sent his way.  He was the best of us, and we will miss him dearly.”

--Professor Robert Dinerstein, Associate Dean for Experiential Education


“Every dream he dreamt, he lived. Professor Wallace was kind, intellectually generous, and an inspiration to a 43-year-old woman who studied law.”

--Rachel Gader-Shafran '02


“Professor Perry Wallace was such a kind, wonderful teacher and role model. As a first generation law student from the South Bronx, Professor Wallace was one of the first African-American male lawyers I had ever met. Due to his quiet humbleness, I did not find out about Professor Wallace’s past life as a civil rights trailblazer and basketball player at Vanderbilt until much later in my law school career, which only made me appreciate him even more.  It was such a Blessing, Honor and Privilege to know him. I would like to extend my deepest condolences and prayers of strength to Professor Wallace’s family, friends and the entire WCL faculty, staff and community.   

--Michael Barbosa ’99, Assistant Attorney General in Charge, Office of NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman


“Perry was a graceful man in several different senses of that word.”

--Professor Walter Effross


“Perry was a beacon of kindness, compassion, integrity, and good humor when I was at American. I learned much from him. I think of him with fond respect often and I will miss him very much.”

--Adrienne D. Davis, Vice Provost, William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, Washington University in St. Louis


“I have no words to express how I felt when I received this news. Professor Wallace was a wonderful man and he touched my life, as well as the lives of many others, in so many ways. I will always remember him, his kindness and all he would do for the others. I had the pleasure to have him as my SJD supervisor and to work with him teaching Business Law and Arbitration. I will always remember him and will miss him so much.

My heart and prayers are with his family."

--Renata Brazil David SJD ’10


“Perry was, simply put, a Role Model for the Ages. Such a man does not grace our lives that often and I feel privileged to have known and worked with him.”

--Professor Robert Goldman


“I, like many of you, am still stunned by the death of our beloved friend and colleague, Perry Wallace. His death has hit us hard. That countless colleagues, staff, and former students have expressed their pain at the news, and described just how much each of us loved and admired Perry, is itself a testament to what he achieved not just as a law professor but as a friend.

One of the many things that I will miss most about Perry was how strong of an ally he was to other civil rights and equality movements, and how he lent his wisdom and voice – publicly – to those struggles. In response to an essay I had published in the wake of the Orlando Massacre on the intersection of LGBTQ and Latinx identities, Perry shared the following words with our community in an open note to me – words that served as heartbalm to me and to so many others:

[T]his is a special moment in history. And I wanted to contribute what I know about propitious moments in history. It's time for the kind of ‘historical leveraging’ that is not always possible on routine days and in routine times. What goes with all the pain, sadness and bewilderment is a correspondingly special power in the air for education, empowerment and change.

Education. Empowerment. Change. Perry Wallace. May he rest in peace.”

--Vice Dean Tony Varona


“Professor Wallace was such a positive person both inside and outside of the classroom. He truly believed in all of his students. Anyone that took his Business Associations class had one less thing to study for the Bar Exam. His humor and smile brought everyone’s anxiety levels down, and he will not be forgotten for his kindness toward the students of WCL.”

--Charles Frank ’15


“I’m really crushed and dispirited by this news.  Perry was a person of extraordinary vision and remarkable grace. He was always an exemplary colleague, profoundly supportive of professors and staff as well as his students. 

At a time when it seems we are witnessing nothing but the worst behavior in men, it will be heartening and uplifting to think of Perry, a true gentleman in all things, a devoted teacher, and an unjaded champion in thought and deed of a fair, decent, and equal society.”

--Professor Jamie Raskin, U.S. Representative, Maryland’s 8th District


“I share the sense of loss so many others have expressed. I, too, was blessed to enjoy those day-to-day encounters with that glorious, life-affirming smile. I also had the privilege of getting to know Perry a bit better on a law school business trip together to visit a foreign school, from some exchanges about legal matters of common teaching interest and on which he consulted, and through some mutual acquaintances outside of school. He was a remarkably humble giant of a human being whose grace and wisdom were true gifts to all he encountered."

--Professor Nancy Abramowitz


“One important side of Perry’s deep and wonderful soul was his commitment to persons with disabilities.   He was incredibly kind to my son and incredibly supportive to me in raising him. He so embodies everything our law school stands for.”

--Professor Susan Carle


“It is rare to have the chance to work alongside a genuine civil rights hero. Professor Perry Wallace was that hero, and he was an inspiration to all whose lives he touched. The inspiration was not simply from hearing and learning about his experiences breaking a color barrier in college basketball in the 1960s; it was also from the remarkable dignity and grace that Perry brought to every endeavor. He served as an inspiration to a generation of law students and had much the same impact on myriad professional colleagues. Perry Wallace is gone much too soon, he had so much more goodness to share with all of us around him.”

--Professor Stephen Wermiel


“I am heartbroken. Perry was one of my heroes and role models. I never met anyone wiser than Perry. He embodied greatness. 

I had the honor of spending a summer with Perry in Chile, during one of WCL's summer law programs. We shared so many laughs and I carefully listened to him both in the classroom and outside of it. Every conversation with him, every smile and that wonderful laugh were lessons on how to live a good life, on how to cherish the good and shrug off the evil in this world. That summer I learned that we had a common love of martial arts! He told me that he had a routine that he practiced every day. There it was, one more thing to emulate from my role model!” 

--Professor Macarena Saez, Faculty Director, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law


“I join our community in paying tribute to Perry, a trail blazer and role model for all. With unsurpassed dignity, kindness and determination Perry reminded us what always should be first: our common humanity.  He brought out the best in our community and developed even further our institutional commitment to contribute to justice through education as well as through our own individual actions. I am deeply saddened by the death of Perry, a colleague who meant a lot to all of us, and to me, and with whom I was fortunate to intensively interact for many years. I express the hope that we find a way to honor him, his life, and the values he embodied.”

--Professor and Dean Emeritus Claudio Grossman


“I am very, very sad at hearing this news.  Perry was a truly wonderful, kind, compassionate friend and will be greatly missed.  I am reading again today the wonderful book – Strong Inside – Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South – and the lovely words he wrote inside for me.

My thoughts are with his family at this time of loss.”

--Jennifer Dabson, Director, Special Events and Continuing Legal Education


“What a wrenching loss.  Perry combined so much that I could only admire—and wonder at—such an extraordinary man.  Articulate and wise; strong and gentle; warm and generous; realistic and experienced but hopeful and game.  More important, he remained a quiet and private person but possessed such a greatness of spirit that he touched everyone.  Every time I talked to Perry I felt like I needed to try harder to be better, to be more like him. 

I have missed him these last few semesters, but I still thought of him as part of our faculty and our school.  Now the loss is so great.  But we are still better for having known him, and richer for having had the privilege to count him as one of us.”

--Professor David Snyder, Director of the Business Law Program


“I had the pleasure of working closely with Professor Perry Wallace.  It didn't take me long to understand why he had the respect of so many people.  Perry was not afraid of a challenge, to embrace diversity, and to be a role model for us all on how to treat each other.  I will miss you Perry, but will carry forward what I learned from you.”

--Glenn Greenberg, Director of Online Education