Royal Graham Shannonhouse III dies at 81

Law professor was also a partner in two Annapolis law firms and had taught at the city police academy

July 27, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Royal Graham "The House" Shannonhouse III, a retired attorney and University of Baltimore law school professor who was a beloved taskmaster and had a profound influence on his fledgling law students, died in his sleep Friday at his Federal Hill home.

He was 81.

"He was the quintessential law professor who inspired his students to be the best lawyers they could be, and his influence continues on in us 40 years later after we left his classroom," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James F. Schneider said Tuesday. "Shannonhouse was the greatest."

H. Mebane Turner, who had been president of the University of Baltimore from 1969 until retiring in 2002, said that Mr. Shannonhouse had been "a great favorite of the students."

"He developed a great following of people who looked up to him, and we were fortunate to have had him at the school of law," Mr. Turner said. "Royal was a quiet person who came to life when he was in the classroom. He was able to bridge the gap between entertainer and teacher."

Mr. Shannonhouse, the son of a retail executive and a registered nurse, was born in New Bern, N.C., and raised in Pittsboro, N.C.

He was a 1946 graduate of Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg and earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mr. Shannonhouse saw active duty in Korea from 1950 to 1953 as a gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Higbee, and later as a naval reservist he attained the rank of lieutenant commander.

He graduated in 1955 with honors from the University of North Carolina law school, where he remained for the next five years as assistant professor of public law and government, and assistant director of the university's Institute of Government.

In 1960, he joined the faculty of the University of Georgia law school in Athens, where he taught for four years. He came to Baltimore in 1969 and began teaching in the law school of the University of Baltimore.

"He was our Kingsfield from 'The Paper Chase,' and taught us with tough love, and we loved him for it. He was an icon," said Byron L. Warnken, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who is also a media legal correspondent.

"He was Southern-born at a time of deep stereotypes, yet he had a great liberal sense. He would tell us that the law was our very best hope and mechanism and it was for everyone," Mr. Warnken said.

"He also taught us that the law wasn't a business, it was a calling," he said. "And as tough as he was, he would go out of his way to help and established very intimate relationships with his students."

Mr. Shannonhouse was given the nickname "The House" by his students, Mr. Warnken said.

"He was a Kingsfield with a heart," said Judge Schneider.

"When you're first in law school, no one wants to be called on to answer a question. But eventually he would, and he'd put you on the griddle, but he always did it with a sense of humor," Judge Schneider recalled. "He'd have fun with you, and you learned something."

Another lasting lesson that Mr. Shannonhouse imparted, said Mr. Warnken, is that "judges and the bureaucracy aren't always fair."

He recalled that when it was time for his class to graduate from law school, his classmates clamored for Mr. Shannonhouse to be their commencement speaker.

"That's almost never done. It's too inside, but we all insisted that he be our speaker," he said.

In his address, Mr. Shannonhouse reminded his former students that they were the "intellectual and moral leaders of the community."

"You are also moral leaders, whether you will it or not. How can you avoid it? Consider your rank and duty: You are the keepers of the law, who see to its application and interpretation in the affairs of our people," he said.

"If the popular standards of morality were as high as the law requires, there would be no need for the law or lawyers. Your rank as officers of the court and ministers of justice demand of you the highest standards that the law expresses."

Mr. Shannonhouse also taught at the Baltimore Police Academy.

In 1972, Mr. Shannonhouse took issue with the stop-and-frisk section of then- Gov. Marvin Mandel's gun-control bill, which he called "potentially dangerous." He said it gave police "encouragement to stop-and-frisk anybody they wanted to."

It could also constitute "police harassment," he told The Sun at the time. " Nazi Germany did that after the same kind of complaints of anarchy in the streets."

That same year, he challenged the state's 92-year-old vagrancy statute, which he said was "potentially a tool that could be used to harass unpopular minorities."

It could be used, he said, to "harass hippies who do not work regularly and have no permanent address" as well as African-Americans and radical protesters.

During the 1970s, Mr. Shannonhouse was a regular Sun reviewer of books relating to crime, police and the law.

In addition to his teaching, Mr. Shannonhouse was a partner and of counsel in the law firms of Blumenthal, Warren, Offut, Klos and Delavan P.A. in Annapolis, and Dalnekoff and Mason, also in Annapolis.

He retired from the University of Baltimore in 1993 and from his general law practice in 2009.

He enjoyed fishing, sailing and reading.

Mr. Shannonhouse was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Advent, 1301 S. Charles St., Federal Hill, where a memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Surviving are his wife of 58 years, the former Myra Welsh; three sons, Royal G. Shannonhouse IV of Charlotte, N.C., William W. Shannonhouse of Fort Worth, Texas, and Elliott McC. Shannonhouse of San Francisco; a brother, the Rev. Thomas G. Shannonhouse of Eastville, Va.; a sister, Susan S. Hawkins of Carey, N.C.; and three grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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