AUSTIN, Texas—Corwin W. Johnson, a law professor at The University of Texas at Austin for almost six decades and a national expert on property law and water law, died Thursday, July 29, after suffering a stroke. He was 86 years old.
“Corwin was a pillar of the Law School community for over half a century. He was a great teacher and scholar. But even more than that, he was a great friend. We will all miss him,” said School of Law Dean Bill Powers.
“Everyone associated with the Law School will deeply miss Corwin Johnson,” said Professor Steven Goode, associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Law. “To use a term from his beloved law of property, he was a ‘fixture’ here, and it’s hard to believe he is gone. While his death leaves a large void, his good nature and intellect will live on in the hearts of all his colleagues and the thousands of students he taught over his more than half-century at UT.”
A memorial service will be held for Professor Johnson at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 3, at the University United Methodist Church, 2409 Guadalupe St., in Austin.
Johnson was born in Hamlet, Ind., on Oct. 5, 1917. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees. He also studied at Yale Law School as a Sterling Fellow. During World War II he served as a Special Agent of the F.B.I., engaged in counter-espionage and other law enforcement activities in field offices in Memphis, New Orleans and San Francisco.
Professor Johnson joined the faculty of The University of Texas School of Law in September 1947 as an assistant professor. He retired in 1988 as the Edward Clark Centennial Professor Emeritus, but through a modified service policy, continued to teach half-time for more than 12 years. Johnson specialized in land use regulation, property law, and water resource allocation and management. He was co-author with John E. Cribbet, Roger W. Findley and Ernest E. Smith of a leading property casebook, “Property: Cases and Materials” (8th ed., 2003). Johnson was co-author with John E. Cribbet of a treatise, “Principles of The Law of Property” (3rd ed., 1989).
Johnson was extensively involved in the development of Texas water law during the second half of the twentieth century. Through publishing articles, advising Texas legislative agencies, and organizing and participating in conferences, he played an important role in the evolution of water law in Texas. On June 15, 2004, he spoke at the Texas State Capitol as part of a symposium commemorating the 100th anniversary of the rule of capture. The symposium, sponsored by the Texas Water Development Board, was his last public speaking engagement.
When Johnson arrived at the Law School, segregation was legal, and Heman Sweatt, an African American, had been denied admission. In the oral history interview published last fall, Johnson talks about being repelled by segregation and teaching in the “separate but equal” law school created by the State of Texas in response to Sweatt’s lawsuit challenging the exclusion of African Americans from the university. In 1947, Professor Johnson taught first-year Property to the two students who were enrolled at the school. In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Sweatt v. Painter that this segregation of legal education was unconstitutional.
James A. Baker III, the former U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury, was a student of Professor Johnson’s in 1954 and wrote the foreword to his oral history. Baker remembers him as a “wise, patient, and gentle man.” He wrote, “he used the Socratic method, but he leavened its harsh justice with genuine kindness. We tried harder next time because we didn’t want to disappoint him.” Students at the School of Law dedicated their 1958 yearbook, The Peregrinus, to Johnson, and alumni and the Class of 1964 established The Corwin W. Johnson Class of ’64 Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law in his honor.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Evelyn Johnson, his sister, Marceil Weston, his two sons, Kent Johnson and Kirk Johnson, and his three grandchildren, Cory Johnson, Doug Johnson and Scott Johnson.
His family requests that, in lieu of flowers, charitable contributions be made to The Corwin W. Johnson Class of ’64 Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law. Checks should be made out to “The University of Texas at Austin” and mailed care of the Dean’s Office to: UT Law School, 727 East Dean Keeton St., Austin, Texas, 78705.
For more information contact: Laura Castro, 512-232-1229, or Jodi Bart, 512-471-7330, School of Law.