Distinguished Professor John E. Fenton, Jr. was a highly respected favorite among Suffolk Law School students for more than 40 years. His evidence course filled quickly each fall, as word passed from one class to the next about his teaching excellence and wonderful sense of humor. Generations of students counted his lectures among the highlights of their legal education.
When one takes the measure of a man, however, his worth cannot be summarized through an impressive resume or a singular talent. While Professor Fenton had these, they were among the many facets that together made him shine so brightly for those who knew him.
The late Professor Clifford E. Elias was close friends with Professor Fenton for 50 years.
"I could write a book about him and the good work he did for the community, the Law School and charitable organizations," said Professor Elias, who was born and raised in the same town as Professor Fenton. "It has been said the organizations are nothing more than the shadow of individuals and this is, indeed, true in John's case. On a personal note, my life has been blessed with his friendship."
Professor Fenton, a native of Lawrence, Mass., graduated cum laude from the College of the Holy Cross in 1951. In 1954, he graduated from Boston College Law School. He earned an LLM from Harvard Law School in 1955.
Professor Fenton served as a first lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the U.S. Army. When he completed his service in 1957, he returned to Massachusetts and married Theresa A. Regan. He began to teach at Suffolk Law in 1957.
In 1974, Professor Fenton was appointed to the Massachusetts Land Court, becoming chief justice in 1990. He served as chief justice for Administration and Management of the Massachusetts trial court from 1992 to 1994. After he left the judiciary, he accepted the position of dean at Suffolk Law School. At the time he had 37 years of faculty service and was hailed by President John Sargent as ideally suited to lead the Law School.
Those words were proven true as Professor Fenton, who served as dean until 1999, led the Law School into a new era. He was an integral force behind the new Law School building on Tremont Street.
Said Dean Robert H. Smith, "John Fenton played an essential role in planning and development for Sargent Hall, bringing his keen vision to bear in a legal education setting for the 21st century."
In 1999, Professor Fenton was named Distinguished Professor of Law. Professor Fenton received numerous Suffolk Law School awards, including the Outstanding Faulty Member Award from the Student Bar Association the first Distinguished Service Award from the Suffolk University Law Review and both a Special Recognition Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Suffolk University Law School Alumni Association.
In addition to his academic and professional accomplishments, Professor Fenton was known for his dedication to charitable and social service activities. He was chairman of the board of the Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, and a governor or Caritas Christi Health Care System.