Robert Covington, professor of law emeritus, died at his home Nov. 29. He was 84.
Born in Evansville, Indiana, but raised largely in Paris, Tennessee, Professor Covington earned his undergraduate degree at Yale University before earning his law degree at Vanderbilt Law School in 1961.
He joined the Vanderbilt Law faculty immediately after earning his law degree. At that time, Dean John Wade, whose leadership during the 1960s and early 1970s propelled Vanderbilt Law School to national status, customarily hired a top graduate to teach and serve as a research fellow the following year. Covington agreed to put his plans to join the JAG Corps on hold for a year to accept the honor, recalling in an interview that his immediate predecessor in that position was Gilbert S. Merritt Jr. ’60, who later became a federal appellate judge on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals..
Covington accepted an offer to join the Vanderbilt law faculty permanently after his fellowship year ended and taught labor and employment law for 46 years until his retirement in 2007. In addition to his recognized expertise in labor law, he also published books and articles on evidence, insurance, legal method and legal education over the course of his distinguished academic career.
He continued to publish after assuming emeritus status, authoring the third edition of Employment Law in a Nutshell (Thomson West, 2009) and co-authoring the fourth edition of Legal Protection for the Individual Employee (Thomson West, 2010) with Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, Clyde W. Summers, Alvin L. Goldman and Matthew W. Finkin.
Covington’s university service including chairing the faculty senate, serving as president of the University Club, and supporting the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “We are so grateful for Bob’s nearly half-century of teaching, scholarship and service at the law school and university,” Dean Guthrie said.
Faculty colleagues recall Covington’s deep commitment to the law school and university and his dedication to teaching. In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the university, Covington received Vanderbilt’s Thomas Jefferson Award in 1992. When the law school was expanded and renovated in the early 2000s, the Covington Room was named in his honor.
In the early years at Vanderbilt, Covington organized and led a faculty-student Dixieland band that entertained at law school functions and produced a vinyl record.
An accomplished baritone, Covington also founded Headnotes, an a cappella choir of students and faculty that has performed at law school functions for more than two decades. “Anyone who sang in the Headnotes with Bob remembers his sense of humor and bottomless generosity,” said Nancy King, who holds the Lee S. and Charles A. Speir Chair in Law. “Bob was so cool under pressure. For many years, the Headnotes would sing the anthem at Vandy basketball games. Walking out there to sing into a microphone in front of thousands of people, especially when the game was televised, was so much easier with his calming, relaxed presence.”
Covington is survived by his wife, Paula Anne Covington (MLS’71, MA’94), who is a subject librarian for Latin American and Iberian studies and a senior lecturer in Latin American studies at Vanderbilt University.
A small family memorial service will be held at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Dec. 11, which will be live-streamed on the church’s website starting at 11 a.m. CST.
Donations in Professor Covington’s memory can be made to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee “Covington Quality of Life Fund,” which supports the Nashville symphony, opera, ballet and the Frist Art Museum; to Vanderbilt Law School; or to a charity of the donor’s choice.