Otis H. Stephens Jr.
Sept. 20, 1936-Dec. 2, 2016
Otis Hammond Stephens Jr., 80, was born in East Point, Ga. on Sept. 20, 1936 to Otis and Margaret Stephens. He departed this life on Dec. 2, 2016 in Statesboro, Ga. Blind from birth due to the genetic disorder retinitis pigmentosa, his parents created an environment for success, curiosity, and intellectual rigor for their two visually impaired children that characterized his life. He attended public schools in East Point before attending the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon, where he graduated valedictorian of his class at the age of 16. A gifted pianist, he enrolled at the University of Georgia and paid his way through college by tuning pianos and playing in the dance band The Bulldogs. He received a bachelor of arts in political science in 1957 and a master of arts in political science in 1958. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1963 and a J.D. from the University of Tennessee in 1983. In 1975‐76 he was awarded the Russell Sage Residency in Law and Social Science at Harvard Law School as a post‐doctoral scholar.
In 1962 he embarked on an academic career as a constitutional law scholar by accepting his first academic appointment at Georgia Southern College, now University, and immediately became a popular professor on campus. So much so that the 1966 yearbook was dedicated to him by the senior class. In 1967 he accepted an appointment at the University of Tennessee in the Political Science Department and dedicated the next 45 years to his students, profession, and community, retiring in 2012. He served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and head of the Political Science Department. He was named the Lindsey Young Professor of Political Science in 1981 and was twice the recipient of the UT Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award. In 1988 he received the L.R. Hesler Award for Excellence in Teaching and Service. In 1994 he was selected as the spring commencement speaker. He was named Alumni Distinguished Service Professor and in 2001 was named UT Macebearer, the university’s highest faculty award. In 2000 he was appointed Resident Scholar of Constitutional Law in the College of Law. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, he authored, co-authored, or edited six books in his field, most significantly, “American Constitutional Law,” now in its 6th edition and a leading textbook in the field. Among his cherished opportunities was that of scholarly inquiry with his esteemed colleagues and former students.
One colleague described him as “an implacable critic of injustice, but a warm and understanding listener to people of many different persuasions and points of view. Quite a combination.” He felt the plight and struggle for justice, equal rights and equal treatment under the law for all people. His extensive public service included work with the UT Law Clinic and numerous organizations in service of citizens with disabilities. He served as president of the American Council of the Blind from 1987‐89, president of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC) from 1979-1983 and was a trustee of the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) from 1987‐99. In 1981 he was appointed to the Governor’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and served a five‐ year term. He was the recipient of the 2001 Migel Medal awarded by the AFB, the highest honor in the blindness field, for his work significantly improving the lives of people with vision loss. He was a tireless advocate for ultimate passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and a member of Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church. He was a longtime member of the American, Tennessee, and Knoxville Bar Associations and in 2010 was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.
He was preceded in death by his first wife Linda Duren Stephens, mother of his daughters, whom he married in 1960, and his second wife Mary Ballard Stephens. He is survived by a sister Ann (John) Sims, Atlanta, Ga.; daughters Ann Stephens (Allen) Henderson of Statesboro, Ga., and Carol Stephens (Kevin) Frazier of Knoxville, Tenn.; seven remarkable grandchildren: Caroline Greer Henderson, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Katherine Lee Henderson, Knoxville, Tenn.; Grace Elizabeth Frazier, Chattanooga, Tenn.; Elizabeth Stephens Henderson, Atlanta, Ga.; Annie Laura Frazier and Charli Monroe Frazier, Knoxville, Tenn.; and William Clark Henderson, Statesboro, Ga.; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service celebrating his life was held Dec. 9, 2016, at Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church in Knoxville. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Otis Stephens College of Law Endowment at the University of Tennessee, 1525 University Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37996‐0650. Condolences can reach the family c/o Carol Frazier, 12698 Amberset Dr., Knoxville, TN 37922, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ann Henderson, 110 Lakeside Ct., Statesboro, GA 30458, email@example.com.
Otis H. Stephens Jr. served as ACB’s president from 1987 to 1989. In this photo, he sports a dark suit coat, white shirt, and light-colored tie.