Governor, VLS president, faculty share memories of former Dean Shields; Memorial service set for August 16

Vernon Law School will hold a memorial service for its former Dean and President Jeff Benson. The memorial is set for August 16. According to the following release:

A memorial service for former Vermont Law School Dean and President Geoffrey “Jeff” Benson Shields will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, on the VLS campus. Dean Shields, 68, passed away Saturday, Aug. 2, at the Guilford, Vt., home he shared with his loving wife, Genie Shields.

“By all accounts, Jeff lived a large life—a gentle giant, so to speak, who generously shared with the VLS community his passion for the simple things as well as his legal expertise and business acumen,” said VLS President and Dean Marc Mihaly. “Whether he was leading a group of students on a hike, hosting them at his dinner table, or breaking down the intricacies of not-for-profit or corporate law, he was engaged. He gave so much to Vermont Law School, and we look forward to celebrating his life and legacy with his family and his extended VLS family.”

Shields served as dean and president from 2004 to 2012. He was then, and still is, referred to fondly by many at VLS as “The Guy with the Bowtie.”

His tenure was marked by great change during which Vermont Law solidified its position as the nation’s No. 1 school for environmental law; expanded its international focus; and established internationally regarded centers and programs, including the Institute for Energy and the Environment and U.S.-China Partnership for Environmental Law.

“This is a tragic loss for Jeff’s family, all those who knew him and the entire Vermont Law School community,” said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. “Jeff’s many contributions to justice, education, the environment and common sense public policy strengthened our state and will serve as a lasting legacy. He was one of the most gifted and visionary leaders that I have known, acting with modesty, humor and extraordinary judgment. Vermont will miss him greatly.”

During commencement in May, VLS conferred honorary degrees upon both Jeff and Genie Shields for their enduring commitment to the school.

“I’ve simply never known anyone more excited about his job or more committed to it,” said VLS Professor of Law Stephen Dycus. “Jeff was a superb dean, an inspiration to everyone he met, and a devoted friend. His main inspiration was, of course, Genie, who continues to show us all what joy means.”

Associate Dean Shirley Jefferson remembers meeting Dean Shields for the first time at an alumni event in Washington, D.C., before he became dean.

“At the time, I didn’t know he was interviewing to be dean,” Jefferson said. “I received a package a few days later, with some articles he thought might provide me with insight for a class I was teaching. It was so incredibly thoughtful of him. Later, he, Genie and I became good friends, and as colleagues, I could always walk into his office and tell him anything, though he may not have agreed with me. He really had a big heart and was compassionate. Jeff loved his students, faculty, and staff.”

In the weeks leading up to his death, Dean Shields asked Jefferson to sing at his memorial service—“something uplifting,” Jefferson recalls.

“He told me he wanted me to make it a party, a celebration of his life, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Jefferson said.

Per his wish, contra dancing will be held in Yates Common Room on the VLS campus directly following the 2 p.m. memorial service in Chase Community Center.

A second service will take place at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Lake Forest, Ill. His family asks that any gifts in his memory be sent to the Hallowell Singers, 191 Canal St., Brattleboro, Vt. 05301, or to The Jeff and Genie Shields Prize at Vermont Law School, 164 Chelsea St., South Royalton, Vt. 05068.

A “Remembering Jeff Shields” page has been established on the Vermont Law School website, atwww.vermontlaw.edu/jeffshields, with a Remembrance Journal for members of the greater VLS community to share their thoughts and memories of Dean Shields.

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