Vermont Law School mourns the passing of Geoffrey “Jeff” Benson Shields, who left an indelible mark on the law school as president and dean from 2004 to 2012. Dean Shields passed away peacefully on August 2nd, holding the hand of his loving wife, Genie, at their home in Guilford, Vermont. Shields had the kind of education and career that prepared him beautifully for the academic, idiosyncratic, hands-on law school he would one day lead. He received his BA in economics, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1967 and his JD in 1972 from Yale Law School, where he was editor of the Yale Law Journal. His first job out of college was as a truck driver for the Experiment in International Living, and he operated a bulldozer while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Shields served as counsel andforeign policy advisor to Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and clerked for Judge James L. Oakes of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He went on to practice law in Chicago, eventually rising to partner and chairman at the law firm of Gardner, Carton & Douglas. He lived his values, particularly in public service. He was honorary life director of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and board member of the Chicago chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Association among many volunteer positions. Mark Latham, deputy vice dean for academic affairs, knew something was different about Jeff Shields when the two met at the Chicago law firm where Latham spent the summer between his second and third years of law school. Over time, Latham came to regard Shields as a “terrific lawyer, leader, and mentor” — he was one of the firm’s “rainmakers,” had a thriving law practice, and had established a national reputation. Which is why Latham was surprised when Shields announced in 2004 that he was leaving the law firm to become the dean and president of Vermont Law School. But Dean Latham instantly understood his former law partner’s move when he visited the rolling hills of central Vermont to say a few words on behalf of the firm at Jeff’s inauguration. Shortly thereafter Latham made the same move himself, joining the VLS faculty in 2005. As president and dean Shields maintained his “ability to connect,” Latham says, “and to do so in a genuine way.” Under Dean Shields, the school underwent a remarkable transformation. VLS solidified its position as the law school with the nation’s premier environmental law program and, consistent with the Dean’s belief that we are all citizens of the world, also expanded its international reach. Several new institutes and programs were developed at VLS during his leadership, including the Institute for Energy and the Environment the U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law, and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. Upon his retirement in 2012 Dean Shields said, “I have loved this job. The opportunity to lead an institution with a mission of public citizenship, public service, and environmental advocacy has been exhilarating. The quality and values of our trustees, faculty, staff, students and alumni have lifted me every day since I started here.” In return, he lifted us all.