Roy Mersky
ROY MERSKY, 1925-2008 Director made UT law library one of the nation's best

By Claire Osborn


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Roy Mersky was a giant in his field who made the University of Texas law library one of the best in the nation, friends and colleagues said. Along the way, he taught worldwide, wrote prolifically and compiled a résumé more than 40 pages long.

"He was probably the most famous law librarian in the history of legal education," said Larry Sager, dean of the University of Texas School of Law.

Mersky, 82, died Tuesday at an Austin hospice. The director of the UT Tarlton Law Library had lymphoma and injured himself in a fall days before his death, his colleagues said.

Mersky had a "ruthless" determination to provide "absolutely magnificent" service to all library users, Sager said. "We may never see a heroic figure like Roy again."

Mersky, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, was interested in fighting for civil rights and religious freedom, UT President William Powers Jr. said. "He saw the law as a vehicle for doing that."

Mersky built an extensive collection of legal research and rare books at the library, Powers said.

Mersky also established a system so that each law school faculty member had a librarian to help with research, Powers said.

"I cannot imagine the profession without him. ... He was a legend," said Taylor Fitchett, director of the law library at the University of Virginia and a friend of Mersky's for 30 years. A book that Mersky helped write, "The Fundamentals of Legal Research," is the bible of legal research, she said.

Mersky, who was married with three children, became director of the library in 1965 after receiving three degrees at the University of Wisconsin, including a law degree. He pushed the people he trained at the library to teach and publish so that they got top jobs across the country, said Bob Berring, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

"I went from Texas to Harvard," said Berring, who was hired by Mersky in the late 1970s. "Roy was all about networking, and he called the Tarlton 'the mother library' ... as in your mother never forgets you."

Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who became friends with Mersky while she was an assistant UT professor in the late 1980s, said he was a tough man who talked about his experience as a machine gunner in World War II and showed her the scars on his hand from a war injury, she said.

"He talked about what it meant to have a job where the people who worked with you died, but you kept on doing your job anyway because you thought it was right," she said.

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Published by Austin American-Statesman from May 7 to May 12, 2008.
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26 Entries
I met Roy about 65 years ago when we were both at the U of Wisconsin. He was small in stature but was bursting with energy. I just ran across his obituary. He was close friends and roomed with Jimmie Jones, who was black, at a time when such association was unheard of. I am sorry I lost contact with him. When most people of his ability became professors of law Mersky's decision to become a law librarian and his subsequent work in this field shows exceptual vision. He can be compared with no one.
Cyril Robinson
May 21, 2013
I had the pleasure of working in Professor Mersky's office for three years as an undergraduate. He mentored me with my legal career and life. I am now in law school and owe much of my success to him. My heart goes out to his beloved family that I heard so much about.
Michelle Garza
September 15, 2008
I was sorry to hear of Roy's passing and extend my sincerest sympathies to Rosemary and family.
I so enjoyed working with Roy in his role as a long time member of the Board of Directors of the Nonresident Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Wisconsin. Roy and I had many opportunities to meet at various board meetings throughout the country. I will remember Roy as an interesting, commited, hard working, intelligent man. He will be missed.
Betty Braden
May 13, 2008
We offer our deepest sympathies on your dear loss. May you all find comfort in your loving memories and solace in "the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort". (2 Cor 1:3,4)
The Daniels Family
May 13, 2008
Rosemary, We are saddened by your loss of Roy. He was a wonderful neighbor for many years and you brought so much into his life. With deepest sympathy, Henry Montgomery and Charles Russell.
Henry Montgomery
May 12, 2008
I knew Roy first as a mentor and then as a friend. I offer my heartfelt condolences to his family. There are so many of us who share your loss.
Mark Levbarg
May 12, 2008
Roy Mersky was a total joy to be around -- funny, scholarly, ebullient. It's hard to imagine the law library without him -- or, for that matter, the University or the world. Condolences to his family and friends.
John Schwartz
May 11, 2008
I met Roy in 1977, and when he learned of my research interest in single mothers, he sent me articles with handwritten notes. I recall watching him try to light a barbecue grill, and it was clear that was not his expertise. He was thoughtful and gracious to the son of a visiting friend--he gave him a tour of the law library. Later I had one, too. Roy was bright, charming, rarely understated, usually with a story to tell--and I never saw a bad picture of him. He had a life of many professional accomplishments, but in my view, the best of his legacy resides in his three daughters and three granddaughters. I am so sorry for his family's loss.
Charlene Urwin
May 10, 2008
All my deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the family of a wonderful man and cherished friend. He enriched many lives along the way, including mine.
Ed Askelson
May 10, 2008
Professor Mersky was a Prince, blessed with a great intellect and a kind heart. I remember him fondly from my days at the law school and leaned on him constantly during my tenure on the Supreme Court. God Bless this great patriot, wonderful teacher, and beautiful soul.
Wallace B. Jefferson
May 9, 2008
Ruth, I am so sorry to here about your Dad. I will forever remember when he bought you your first car. A brown Thunderbird. Let's see we were sixteen. The year was 1976. The year of the car, 196o or so. It looked as if it had been droped from the roof of a tall building. Had dents on all four sides. It was as if someone had taken a baseball bat and went at it from everyside.He purchased it for you and to really put the cherry on top threw in a brand new paint job. Dents and all!!!!!!!!!!! Told you he would get you a new car when you started college. He did. But the old Tunderbird although not the prettiest color on the pallet saw much activity in our high school days. I again am so so sorry for your loss and know I am thinking of you and all your family.
I love you, Lisa Grant
Lisa Grant
May 9, 2008
Despite our extreme low status, bottommost on the social ladder, one way that Roy Mersky had of giving expression to his abiding passion for social justice was by "reaching in" to assist prisoners attempting to litigate for their freedom by habeas corpus and employing "guerrilla lawfare" tactics to introduce the rule of law and meanings of the United States Constitution (including freedom of religion), via the 1964 Civil Rights Act, into a recalcitrant Texas Prison System.

From 1966 into contemporary times, Roy Mersky always found the time and patience to respond to (in large part) inarticulate handwritten letters penned in desperation from a multitude of prisoners, including Fred Arispe Cruz and yours truly, sending reams of copies of law journel/review articles "practice" pleadings, ideas, suggestions and practical information.

Along with others who became mentors and good friends through the years, such as Charlie Wright, Joel Jay Finer, Warren Burnett, Luther E. Jones, Jr., Percy Forman, Bill Habern, Jim Skelton, Roy Greenwood, Bill LaRowe, Melvyn Bruder and many others in the Texas legal community, Roy Mersky and all of those who now and over the years have assisted, supported and encouraged me to continue in this seemingly unending struggle for justice for others, deserve far more than meager traditional words of praise, appreciation and thanksgiving. Pure gratitude, from the depths of my being is what i feel.

I believe that on May 6, 2008, God put His arm around Roy Mersky's shoulder (or, perhaps hugged him), and said: "You did good, Roy."
Daniel Grundstrom
May 9, 2008
Everybody at the ACLU of Texas ( extends sympathy and condolences to Professor Mersky's family, friends and colleagues. We remember and honor his leadership.
James Canup
May 9, 2008
When I read the entry about Mr. Mersky stealing two paperclips each time he visited the nurse's desk, I laughed out loud. For years, I served as the CCH rep for the law library. I quickly learned that a welcome staff gift was boxes of paper clips! Roy Mersky was an icon--I learned a lot from him and am proud to say that I believe I earned his respect. My sympathies to you, his family.
Barbara Wray
May 8, 2008
Roy was my friend and colleague for 30 years. We worked together on many activities. He was a man of great wisdom and insight. While I had not seen him for several years we kept in contact on a regular basis. I have many fond memories of Roy and I will always remember how he felt about his life in Texas. He often told me that he had been around the world but there was no better place than Austin. I will miss him very much.
Stuart Shiffman
May 8, 2008
Roy was truly one of a kind. I had the pleasure of serving with him for many years on the editorial board of the Texas Bar Journal. My thoughts are with his family today.
Ralph H. Brock
May 8, 2008
I feel the entire UT Law School is lessened by Roy's passing. While I worked there, he was always helpful, cheerful, and more than willing to share his knowledge and love of both the law and the UT Law School.

My prayers are with his family, friends, and all those who had the great privilege of knowing the one and only, irreplaceable Roy Mersky.

Heartfelt prayers,
Janice Faurie
May 8, 2008
Lisa -
My heart and sympathy go to you and your family during this difficult time. Your father left an impressive and wonderful legacy not only in his work, but in you. If there is anything at all I can do for you or your family, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Heather Huffman
May 8, 2008
Sara Roberts, RN, Samantha Paul, MA, Jessical Luke, RN
Sara Roberts
May 8, 2008
I am the chemo scheduler at Texas Oncology. Mr Mersky was by far one of my favorites. Always very sweet and a pleaseure to deal with (when I told his wife this she laughed at me and said he isn't sweet,in a joking manner of course.) My prayers are with all of you during this time. One thing I remember Mr Mersky saying/doing every time that he came to my desk he stole 2 paperclips. He said that in all the years he has worked he never placed an order for a box of paperclips becuase he could just take them from everyone else. I recently found out just how special he was to UT, and when I asked him about it he was EXTREMELY humble about it. I will miss talking to him! My prayers are with all of you.
Erica Sifuentes
May 8, 2008
To the Mersky family, God bless you during this sad period of the passing of one of Texas's great law professors. He knew the law, he taught the law. On top of it all he stood in awe of the profundity and irony of 'star decisis'. He told me in confidence "that's mob rule, and ruling from the bench." "but..., I make my living on case law." He told me that a judge can use case law to "do nothing, do anything or do what the law actually states." Roy's honesty and candor is how he should be remembered. Texas has lost a great man and I am saddened.
Kit Pearsall
May 8, 2008
It's hard to imagine the law school withot Roy Mersky. Even after all of the years he'd been at it, he always had time for the dumbest questions from the most inexperienced journal me, lost in the library.

Lisa Young (formerly McMorris), former editor-in-chief, Texas Journal of Women and the Law
Lisa Young
May 8, 2008
I owe my career as a rare book librarian to Roy Mersky. "RMM" knew how to turn newly minted librarians into professionals, and thanks to him the Tarlton Law Library became known as the "mother library" for law librarianship. He was also the best kind of friend. My wife Emma and I extend our sympathies to his wife Rosemary, his daughters and grandchildren, and to our Tarlton Law Library colleagues.
Mike Widener
May 8, 2008
Professor Mersky was a great friend and mentor. His life of dedication to the pursuit of justice is a beacon to us all.
Joe K. Longley
May 8, 2008
Eugene Palmer
May 8, 2008
Roy Mersky was a friend to my family when we were at UT and we are very sorry to hear of his passing. Our hearts go out to Rosemary, his children and to the staff and friends of the Tarlton law library.
Allegra Young
May 8, 2008
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