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In Memoriam: John Payton 1946-2012

John Payton

Memorial Information at the Claremont Colleges

Please join us in celebrating the life of John Payton '73, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), and member of the Pomona College Board of Trustees.

April 12, 2012 - 2 p.m.

McAlister Center for Religious Activities (919 N. Columbia Ave.)

Reception immediately following in the Honnold Library Founders Room (north entrance). For more information, contact Clay Peters

A Letter from President Oxtoby

It is with great sorrow that I write to let you know that Trustee John Payton, Class of 1973, died this afternoon. This is a tremendous loss for all who knew him, as well as for Pomona College and for the country.

Payton, who was appointed to the Pomona College Board of Trustees in 2005, was the current President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and a tireless advocate for justice, equality, and opportunity. A renowned civil rights attorney, he served as lead counsel for the University of Michigan in the 2003 landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases concerning diversity in higher education, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. In 2010, the National Law Journal named John to its list of “The Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers.”  The Washington (D.C.) Bar Association awarded him the Charles Hamilton Houston Medallion of Merit.

A native of Los Angeles, Payton was born in 1946 and graduated from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics. As a student, he was a founder of the Black Student Union and co-founder of the Black Studies Center. In addition, he was a member of the Nu Alpha Phi fraternity and participated in intramural sports. A Pomona College Scholar, he also received the prestigious Watson Fellowship for study in West Africa.

After graduating from Pomona, Payton earned his law degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School and clerked for U.S. District Judge Cecil F. Poole, Northern District of California. Prior to his appointment to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 2008, Payton was a partner with the firm Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering in Washington, D.C. From 1991 to 1994, he took a leave from the firm to serve as the Corporation Counsel for the District of Columbia. He was a past president of the District of Columbia Bar Association and served in leadership roles with a number of civil and human rights organizations, including in the National Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the Free South Africa movement.

Payton was an enduring friend to Pomona. He was currently serving as vice chair of the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs Committee and co-chair of the Pomona College Campaign “Daring Minds.”  Pomona presented him with an honorary LL.D. (Doctor of Laws) degree in 2005, when he was a memorable and inspiring graduation speaker.

President Obama issued a statement tonight that said “Michelle and I were saddened to hear about the passing of our dear friend John Payton. . . The legal community has lost a legend, and while we mourn John’s passing, we will never forget his courage and fierce opposition to discrimination in all its forms.”

Pomona and indeed the country have lost a valuable leader and one who was truly living up to President Blaisdell’s challenge: "They only are loyal to this college who, departing, bear their added riches in trust for mankind." Our thoughts and prayers extend to his wife Gay McDougall, family, friends, and colleagues. As information becomes available about a memorial service, that information will be posted on Pomona’s web.

David Oxtoby
March 22, 2012

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