Lee S. Cutcliff: Award honors bond to university that began five decades ago.

by David Hudson

Photo by Susan Urmy

Lee S. Cutcliff ’67, BA’61, was drawn to Vanderbilt in the 1960s by its excellent academic reputation. Fifty years later, he is still fully engaged with the university, and Vanderbilt Law School has recognized him as the 2013 Distinguished Service Award winner.

“I owe Vanderbilt a great debt,” Cutcliff said. “I love giving back to the university that made a huge difference in my life. It is a special place.”

“Alumni like Lee make a lasting difference in the life of the law school,” Dean Chris Guthrie said. “He helps us recruit and support students. Thanks to him, we are building a better law school.”

Cutcliff earned undergraduate degrees in English and political science at Vanderbilt. When it was time for a graduate degree, the Birmingham, Alabama, native passed up offers from New York University Law School and the University of Virginia’s political science doctoral program because he knew Vanderbilt Law School was the place for him. His experience did not disappoint, and he remembers Paul Hartman and Elliott Cheatham as especially exceptional instructors.

“Hartman was an unusual man who evoked terror in many students for his confrontational style in class, while Cheatham was the consummate gentleman who conducted his classes like senior seminars,” Cutcliff recalled. “They couldn’t have had more disparate styles, but they were both incredible.”

Cutcliff began his legal career in private practice in Denver and later joined the Bell System, which was then the largest private employer in the world. He weathered the tides of the Ma Bell divesture through positions at AT&T and Lucent Technologies, where he was vice president of law, leading a stable of more than 200 attorneys. “There were fascinating problems in nearly all fields of law,” he said.

“It was a very rewarding career.”

Throughout his career, Cutcliff has been committed to giving back to Vanderbilt. He participates in the Admission Interview Program, meeting with prospective students. “I’ve immensely enjoyed meeting and interviewing applicants for the law school,” he said. “Through the years, I’ve had individuals come and meet me at my home in Charlottesville, Virginia, where sometimes we talk for a couple of hours.”

He is a longtime volunteer with the law school, serving on the Board of Advisors and in the Class Agent and Reunion fundraising programs. He has also supported VLS and Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science with gifts and has committed to endowed scholarships at both schools.

“It is important for alums to be involved in every aspect of the school—beyond just writing checks,” he explained. “I owe Vanderbilt—and I’m just trying to pay them back as best I can. I doubt I could ever pay Vanderbilt back for everything it did for me.”

Summer 2013 Vanderbilt Law Magazine