Vale Sir Zelman Cowen

9 Dec 2011
The University of Melbourne has expressed its deep sadness at the passing yesterday of an alumnus and ex-Dean, the former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen.

One of Australia’s most distinguished constitutional lawyers and academics, Sir Zelman graduated in arts and law from the University of Melbourne and was a Dean of Law from 1951-63 and 1964-66.

Melbourne’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glyn Davis, said it was a sad day for the University community and the country.

``Sir Zelman upheld the finest traditions of scholarship and academia and his contribution to the University and the country are indelible.

``We mourn his passing but celebrate a great Australian.’’

Sir Zelman first came to the University of Melbourne Law School as an undergraduate in 1936. He was a remarkably successful student, graduating with first class honours in arts and law, and winning many prizes, including the Supreme Court prize for the top law student.

In 1940, he won a Rhodes scholarship, but service in the navy during World War II delayed his studies at Oxford until 1945. There he became a fellow of Oriel College and a university lecturer in law.

Returning to Australia, he was appointed Professor of Public Law at Melbourne in 1951, and subsequently became Dean when the incumbent, George Paton, became Vice-Chancellor.

As Dean, Sir Zelman used his abroad to establish relationships with US law schools, fostering staff visits and postgraduate study for Melbourne graduates.

He also raised funds to establish the chair of commercial law, and oversaw the introduction of the casebook method and moot courts into the law course.

And he maintained a high profile as a scholarly author and as a commentator in the media.

Sir Zelman left the University in 1966 to become the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England, and then of the University of Queensland.

Knighted in 1976, he was appointed Governor-General in 1977 - succeeding Sir John Kerr - and served in that role until 1982.

Sir Zelman was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at Melbourne in 1973, as part of the Centenary of the Faculty of Law.

He published his memoirs, A Public Life, in 2006.

 
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