A Great Librarian—An Even Better Guy

Doug Newell, Edmund O. Belsheim Professor of Law, Remembers Peter Nycum

Doug Newell, Edmund O. Belsheim Professor of Law, Remembers Peter Nycum

Peter Nycum Peter NycumMy friend Peter Nycum died in early October. He had been ill for several years but at the end was still sharp and still funny. Peter did great work at the law school. More important to me, he was a really good guy who was always a lot of fun.

Peter loved a party—any kind of party. He loved to plan a party; cook for a party; or mix drinks at a party. The library’s Halloween Party started with Peter. He loved to wear his Ronald Reagan mask at the party and do his impression of the former president. Peter threw parties for his library staff (his “family”) and for visiting dignitaries, as well as for those of us lucky enough to be his friends. In later years Peter, Ed Brunet, and I would get together at Bugatti’s and celebrate important birthdays for each of us. Those were wonderful evenings with good food and good wine.

Peter loved movies. He and I often went to see movies that Peter’s wife Marilyn had no interest in. We called them “club” movies (which was shorthand for “not a chick flick”). For many years we rarely missed any action movie or “shoot-’em-up” released. Dinner and a really bad movie (Wyatt Earp, e.g.) filled a lot of winter evenings.

Peter was a collector of things. His books are now part of our law library collection. When I first knew him he had four cars, including a vintage Mercury Cougar convertible, which he would take out for drives on special occasions. His collection of clothing was extraordinary. Peter was a fashion plate. He had clothes for every occasion. Peter actually liked to shop and a trip to the haberdashery for a necktie could rapidly expand into a shopping spree for slacks and sport coats and shirts and shoes. Once purchased, clothing was rarely discarded. Somewhere in his closets you could probably find a leisure suit or a Nehru jacket.

Peter loved animals. One could often find him walking on campus with his dogs. You never needed a doorbell at his home, as the canine sentries alerted everyone to your arrival.

Most of all Peter was a great friend. You could talk with him about most anything. We often shared a drink from the private stash in his always-overcrowded office and gossiped about events at the law school. Peter did not forget important events. This past March, Peter and Marilyn had me over for dinner on my birthday. Peter, despite his illness, made a return engagement as chef for the evening and the three of us celebrated the event.

I loved Peter. I miss him. The law school is a much better place for him having been here. His students, colleagues, and friends were lucky to have known him.

Professor Emeritus Peter Nycum passed away on Sunday, October 5, 2015, with his wife Marilyn by his side. Peter joined the Lewis & Clark law faculty and was appointed law library director in 1978. He had a deep love and appreciation for the law school, the faculty, and the staff, but especially for the many law students who crossed his path. Peter loved teaching, especially legal history. He thought very highly of his students and often mentioned how impressed he was with the quality of their seminar papers.

Under Peter’s directorship, the Boley Library collection grew from 120,000 volumes in 1978 to over 500,000 volumes, an event the law school celebrated during the 2004-05 academic year. The library also moved to quickly adopt new technology. In 1981, it became one of the first institutions in the country to offer both Lexis and Westlaw.

From 1999 to 2002, Peter chaired the law school building committee for the construction of Wood Hall and the remodel of Boley Law Library. Later, he created the Peter S. Nycum Rare Book Room. He donated many of the rare books in the collection, especially those pertaining to English legal history. The Sir Edward Coke Society, which he founded to “stimulate an interest in legal history through education presentations, collegial discourse, and informative libation tasting,” provided funding for the acquisition of additional rare books for the collection. Peter also worked closely with Phillip Margolin to create the Doreen Margolin Law in Popular Culture.

Dean Jennifer Johnson said, “Even during the period of his declining health, he retained his intellectual curiosity, his interest in people and events, and his infectious sense of humor. We will all miss him greatly.”