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Remembering Jeff Shields

Jeff Shields, 2012
Jeff Shields, 2012
Jeff Shields, 2007
Jeff Shields, 2007

With great sadness we announce the death of Geoffrey "Jeff" Benson Shields, former Vermont Law School president and dean. Dean Shields passed away peacefully, in the company of his loving wife Genie, on Saturday, August 2, 2014, at their Guilford, Vt., home.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Genie and the Shields family.

This online forum is a space for sharing your condolences and memories of Dean Shields, to be shared with his family and with the Vermont Law School community.

Remembrance Journal

Jeff was unfailingly kind and generous with his gifts and his time. He will be missed, and I would encourage all of us to keep lit the light of his graciousness and enthusiasm.
David Carpenter '97 (JD/MSEL)

I learned of the tragic and untimely passing of the beloved Professor Jeff Shields in China where I am lecturing on a Judicial Studies Program. The day I heard I was with the distinguished Professor Xiao Zhu of Renmin University (No.1 in China) whom I first met when he took my course at VLS. Like so many others, we had both benefited enormously from our connections with Jeff and VLS. I was in China indirectly because of Linda Smiddy, Jeff and VLS. Professor Zhu had studied in VLS in 2011 on the US-China Environmental Law program instituted during Jeff’s deanship. Both of us reflected how profoundly we had been influenced by our experiences at VLS. So, the ripples that radiate from Jeff Shields go far and wide. He was a complete gentleman and a gentle man- genial, gracious and generous. All those “g’s” inspired and nurtured by his amazing wife and partner Genie. If I were to write the prototype for the perfect Deanship (for a Deanship is more than just one person) it would be modeled on the Shields’ partnership and it would come with a warning that a capacity for a great deal of unselfishness and love is required. Jeff may have left us for a better place, but all of us are better because of him. What a legacy you have left us dear Jeff. Thank you. Thank both of you. Professor Yvonne Scannell, Law School, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland
Professor Yvonne Scannell 2007-2012

I had the privilege of working closely with Jeff during his first year as VLS' President & Dean. I then served as the school's Vice Dean for Academic Affairs. Jeff & I would talk often about school policies, the curriculum and the people who made up the wonderful VLS community. Jeff listened intently, asked insightful, thoughtful questions and always, always remembered to say "thank you" for my contributions, no matter how small. But my fondest memory of Jeff - and Genie - was the night Hilde and I joined them and many others at their annual Mardi Gras party in the barn. Jeff was weakened by the medical treatment but still wearing the broad, genuine smile we all came to know and love. The highlight of the evening (for us) was when he strapped on the washboard and played along with the wonderful Cajun band. The smile on his face at that moment will remain with me for the rest of my years. It was happiness personified. God bless you, Jeff, and Genie for making VLS and our community a better place. N. Bruce Duthu, VLS Professor (1991 - 2008)
N. Bruce Duthu

I was passing through South Royalton just a few weeks ago, and recalled a wonderful breakfast at the Eaton's Sugar House with Dean Shields and a number of graduating students in 2005. He was warm and engaging and took an interest in every student. I enjoyed many subsequent conversations I had with Dean Shields at alumni events and other meetings. He had a clear vision for the law school and was a great leader for VLS, and he will be missed.
Darren Springer 2005

Jeff was a very special person - smart and personable, but more importantly genuine and caring. He worked very hard to improve VLS during a period of great economic turmoil and did so with such grace and style he made it look easy. Truth be told, he was a natural and it was obvious that he thoroughly enjoyed being the Dean for all the right reasons. We wish he had been given more time, but he certainly lived a rich and full life and provided an exemplary role model for all who were lucky enough to know him. Scott Johnston '82 Marsha Ajhar '81

Dean Shields was an exemplary leader who will be missed but never forgotten. His positive influence and impacts are forever enduring. I was impressed by and learned from his creativity and hard work ethic. Jeff led by doing and by listening to others- whoever you were. Despite his many achievements and experiences, he made me and others feel like his equal and shared his successes with the VLS family. Jeff truly shared everything he had with the community. He shared his time hiking with students up Kent’s Ledge, he shared the comforts of his home for many a student dinner, and he shared his strong, well-informed and thoughtful views on important issues. I am grateful to have known Dean Shields and to have been welcomed into his and Genie’s family.
Allie Silverman

I knew when Dean Shields took all of the newbies on campus on a hike up Kent's Ledge himself that coming to VLS was the best decision I had ever made. He literally walked the walk.
Shelby Buso, '09

It is painful to write a remembrance of Jeff Sheilds. To remember Jeff is also a reminder of loss – loss of a friend, a colleague, and a leader. Jeff came to the Vermont Law School with boundless energy and enthusiasm and a determination to build a better law school – a school he came to love. As the school’s press releases and other remembrances on these and other pages clearly show, he succeeded in many ways. I leave it to others to chronicle those successes. What I remember most about Jeff, and it must be said about Genie Shields as well, is their willingness to give of their time, energy and resources far beyond the normal demands of a Dean or a Dean’s spouse. Jeff spent more time with students and gave more of his off-hours time to faculty, donors, and friends of VLS than any other VLS Dean, and I have seen them all. Together Jeff and Genie created a new sense of community that had begun to fade at VLS. I was fortunate to be part of the community they created and to have served with Jeff in his pursuit of excellence at VLS. I will miss you Jeff and will remember you always.
Gil Kujovich

I graduated from VLS long before Dean Shields arrived, but I was so blessed to have spent time in his company as he reached out to graduates like me. He was so warm and engaging that I hated when our conversations had to come to an end. Thank you Dean Shields for choosing VLS. You leave a wonderful legacy of inspired students.
Leslie A. Cadwell '94

One scene in my deep memory of VLS is that Dean Shields came to the library during the exam period to inspire us by distributing home-made chocolates. He is really a nice gentleman who smiles all the way and who would like to listen, to share and to encourage.
Jill Wei China Program

Dean Shields was in some ways a legend from before our own time at VLS, and to me, this speaks to how eternal his presence will continue to be. In his final year as Dean in 2011, he was still hiking with incoming students, a tradition the Ambassadors continued in his honor in the years that followed. Though 2011 was his last year as Dean, Dean Shields story deepened and became more vivid through fond remembrances from older students and faculty. It was clear that Dean Shields was felt by those around him, and that he will be a part of those who knew him and even those who didn't in all of the little conscious and unconscious ways, from sporting a bow tie to watching a sunrise from Kent's Ledge to faculty hosting students for a meal in their homes, that a man of his kindness lives on.
Jeff Fucci '14

Jeff and Genie, what an amazing team!
John Dumville

Dean Shields was a wonderful mentor to me in law school and after graduation. I, like so many others, will truly miss his guidance, wisdom and kindness. His lasting impression will stay with many of us and will make us all the better as attorneys and as members of our communities in Vermont and beyond. He will be dearly missed.
Katie Amestoy

Jeff and I became presidents together in 2004 - both from backgrounds outside of higher ed -- and both in the same class at Harvard's "presidents' school." His presence made it fun. He was ever kind, generous, interested in everyone, and a total gentleman. I always loved seeing him at our independent colleges meetings in Vermont and welcoming him here at Marlboro. Genie, he will be remembered warmly by all of us.
Ellen McCulloch_Lovell, President of Marlboro College

When I first interviewed for a position in the dean's office, no one warned me that I'd be dodging random toys tossed my way, hopelessly attempting to get Jeff to learn to use a Blackberry, or gaining 10 pounds due to being the repository for all left-over meeting snacks and other goodies Jeff brought to my desk. What I will remember most fondly about Jeff, though, is his enthusiasm, sense of humor, and generosity of spirit. He reminded me often that family comes first, particularly if he caught me working past 5:00 pm. He never failed to remember a birthday, leaving slightly off-key renditions of "Happy Birthday" on the victim's/recipient's voice mail. He enjoyed a good laugh more than anyone else I've worked for, and the memory of his almost giddy laughter still brings a smile to my face. Though working in a profession that often called for professionalism and formal etiquette, he wasn't above participating in good-humored shenanigans, such as joining the dean's office staff in dressing up at Halloween as the justices of the Supreme Court. He and Genie opened their home to the VLS community in so many ways, making everyone -- students, staff, faculty, board members, alumni, donors, and countless others -- feel exceedingly welcome. At Jeff's 60th birthday party, we all donned oversized, cardboard bow ties, much to his entertainment and delight, and Genie told us that she hoped we all got to know Jeff well enough to realize that "he's just a really, really nice guy." Yes, he left a legacy of remarkable change and energy at the law school and was a well-respected scholar, but I remember him mostly as a really, really nice guy.
Jennie Clarke

Thinking of Dean Shields family & especially Genie. Dean Shields made a mark on each and every VLS student, and I will always treasure the times we were welcomed into the Sheilds' home to discuss the issues of the day. Certainly a life to be celebrated.

My first year at VLS was also Dean Shields'. I remember fondly his remarks during orientation that year. When describing the challenges of law school, he said "be sure to make time for friends." That was his approach to school and to life. As a student ambassador, I spent many an afternoon and evening with the Shields when they opened their home to students, staff, and faculty, as they so often did. Dean Shields understood the immeasurable value of connecting with students as they made their way into a new career. I remember when he and Genie offered a day at their farm in Guilford at a Women's Law Group auction. I, with 7 of my new 1L friends, bid on it and won. We enjoyed a very special day with Jeff and Genie. I will remember most Jeff sledding down the hill in their backyard with us, and the requisite hot cocoa they served afterwards. He had as much fun as we did (maybe more). Even in a position of great demand and responsibility, Dean Shields never missed an opportunity to see the lighter side of life and connect with the people and natural world around him. As a leader of VLS, he left a legacy of progress. We owe him a great debt of gratitude for his contributions. May we all find a way to pay it forward.
Jessica (Biamonte) Olson '07

I will remember Jeff always with great fondness. What an admirable person he was, made all the more wonderful by the amazing Genie. I went to see Jeff in his VLS office in 2010 with a question. As always he was a careful listener. I explained that I was open to the idea of giving a series of public lectures at VLS, and, if I did, I’d probably turn them into a book. But I then said, “By contemporary standards, the lectures will be rather radical. Are you sure you want that?” He paused only briefly and said, “Let’s go for it. That’s what we’re here for—to make people think.” And so we did. He continued to encourage and support me. The lectures were delivered with Jeff introducing each one and in 2012 America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy was published. By the time of the final lecture, Jeff had announced that he was stepping down as dean to look after his health. After I gave the lecture, I thanked Jeff warmly and then added, stumblebum that I am, “We will miss Jeff professionally but not personally.” I had in mind that he and Genie were planning to remain in Vermont, with time in Tunbridge and VLS. But when the room broke out in embarrassed laughter, I realized that my words had an entirely different meaning as well! Jeff and I would joke about that many times thereafter. Now, we miss him in every way.
Gus Speth

Just read Micaela's message. I was also articles editor - the following year I believe - and I too remember discussions about a cartoon section! I agree - good idea! We never did get it going though. I didn't get to know Dean Shields well, but have very fond memories of seeing him around campus.
Liz Smith (Johnston) '10

We miss him already. He was our friend since the time he served with Judge Oakes. We were blessed by that friendship and by Genie's, as VLS was blessed by their efforts on behalf of the school, the students, the faculty and the staff.
Jerry and Candy Diamond

Dean Shields was not only a legal scholar, but also a good-hearted man with a playful side that many did not have the privilege of seeing. Some only saw him as the Dean with the bow tie. As an ambassador I had the honor of working in the dean's suite where I witnessed his playful nature first-hand. I was shocked when he threw a ball at me in a playful manner while I was working on the computer. I almost did not know how to react. So, after I collected myself I threw it back and it almost hit him below the belt. It was a side of him that I wish others had the opportunity to witness. He loved students and he loved to share his insight about the law, nature, and the world. He cherished his hikes to Kent's ledge with students, and we loved those hikes with him. Dean Shields was an asset to Vermont Law School, and his legacy is invaluable. VLS is better because of the impact Dean Shields had on the school, the village of South Royalton, and Vermont. May Genie and his family find comfort in knowing that Jeff Shields lived a good life, and had a profound effect on those he came into contact with. Dean Shields claimed the class of 2007 as his class because he began his tenure as President and Dean in 2004 when we were 1Ls. May he rest in peace.
Rob Gordie, JD '07

Dean Shields was a fierce listener who always knew just the right question to ask to get to the heart of the matter. When he heard a good idea that could benefit the law school, big or small, he didn't let go of it. Steadily, he pulled together the people and the resources necessary to bring those good ideas to life. Today, the law school campus is a visual testament to his work--from all the bricks and mortar to the environmentally-friendly enhancements to the artwork (with the help of Genie's creative eye, of course!) He tended the ecosystem of faculty, staff, and students with great pride. I knew he had achieved "legend" status when nearly every male student on the Vermont Law Review starting wearing bow ties to dress-up functions and interviews and talking about their burgeoning bow tie collections during editing sessions. Many blessings to Genie, family, and friends during this sad time--he will be missed.
Cara Cookson '10

Jeff will rightly be remembered for his leadership, vision and warmth but I will remember him most fondly for his wicked sense of humor. As dean, he took special delight in sending April Fool's day emails that I fell for every time. Nothing would delight him more than when I responded to his email as if it were real. On year he announced that we should suspend all morning classes to allow students to go to the river to watch the first annual spring kayak race that would reach campus around 9:00 AM. Irritated, I went to his office because I had a lot of material to cover and he had just given the students permission to leave class. He just laughed, twinkle in his eye, pointed at the ice-filled river and the calendar. I was just glad I hadn't lodged my complaint by hitting "Reply All" on the email he sent, although I think if I had it would have delighted him more.
Jackie Gardina

Although I only worked with Dean Shields for a short time, I enjoyed getting to know him. I also recently stumbled across an essay his grandson wrote about the ways his grandfather had inspired him. Dean Shields’ love of Vermont Law School was prominently featured in the essay. The essay gave a real sense of what a good man Dean Shields was, and I know many of our students were similarly inspired by him and his work. My deep condolences to the Shields family.
Beth McCormack

Dean Shields was an avid supporter of the holistic life for law students, and he and Genie created and sustained the Partners Group for the partners of students at VLS. He was so dedicated to our cause that he hired me to work in his office, despite knowing I would be there only a short time. After hiring me as a partner of a 1L, he encouraged me to take time out of my work day to attend classes and earn the MELP. I took his advice and have ever been grateful for his encouragement and support. He and Genie felt like the lifeblood of VLS while Jeff was Dean, hosting gatherings, contra dances, luncheons, and garden strolls at their beautiful home in Tunbridge. Dean Shields led hikes up Kent's Ledge every semester and was always eager to make quality time with faculty, staff, and students. Jeff's kind, generous, robust, and brilliant spirit was a gift to us all. His passing is much to early, for he had so much to give. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren most of all, and I know he was beloved by them. And he loved VLS dearly. Thank you, Jeff, for showing us all how to make the most of our time in Vermont, and to do everything in our power to love, learn, and grow there.
Kelly O'Day Weisinger, MELP '09

I always appreciated Dean Shields' combination of gentle and kind spirit with his business acumen. I can still hear that deep strong voice discussing the issue of the day at the law school. And his wife Genie added such a generous warmth to so many functions at the school. Rest in peace, Dean.
Beth Freeman, '09

Dean Shields was the person who convinced me to come to VLS. He spoke with me personally and bent over backwards to help me out. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him. He was enormously generous, kind, and funny. I hope I have the opportunity to take a chance on someone the way Dean Shields took a chance on me. I'll always be grateful for his kindness. Rest in peace.
Colleen Carroll

The guy with a bow tie. Dean Shields was indeed a very caring and accessible person. He walked the campus routinely to stop and chat with students and staff alike. He asked questions and expected real answers. And he listened. He also would always go an extra mile to help out his students in any way he could. Him and I met a few times briefly before I asked him for a recommendation letter to a graduate school. He agreed immediately and gave me a highly personalized, caring, thoughtful letter. He spent time writing it. An honor - then and now. He later did it again and again, putting his reputation and name on the line without hesitation time after time. I even asked him once if he thought it was maybe a bit inappropriate to ask the sitting law school Dean for a letter. He said: "Hey, you are a VLS student. That's good enough for me." He lived and breathed and believed in VLS, he constantly told us that we should believe in ourselves, and that VLS students were second to none. Thank you, Dean Shields for caring about us the way you did. A true scholar and a gentleman, a rare kind. The guy with a bow tie; you will be missed. Pavel Reznikov '05

Dean Shields had an amazing ability to suspend or expand time--not sure which--when he was with students. Despite an insanely packed schedule, he took time to listen, share his enthusiasm for student ideas and projects, and to encourage us to go out and try things that were risky and perhaps a little rebellious. When I was Articles Editor for the VLR Dean Shields told me he was keenly interested in seeing the law review adopt a legal "funnies"/cartoon section. I hope the law review - perhaps in cooperation with the Center for Cartoon Studies in WRJ - will consider a memorial funny pages section in his honor.
Micaela Tucker