By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2006
John R. Kramer, 68, a former associate dean and professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and a pioneer in the establishment of legal clinics both at Georgetown and at Tulane University, died March 7 of complications of diabetes at his home in New Orleans.
Mr. Kramer had been working on Capitol Hill when he joined the Georgetown University law school in 1976 as associate dean for clinical education. During his 10 years as dean, he created a program that became a national leader in clinical education and public service.
The clinical program he championed at Georgetown is designed to give law students practical experience while providing legal representation to under-represented individuals and organizations. Mr. Kramer encouraged law students to work in areas of importance to him, including poverty, immigration, housing, civil rights and environmental law.
As dean of the law school at Tulane from 1986 to 1996, he started a law clinic to serve poor people in New Orleans and made Tulane the first law school in the United States to require a specific number of community service hours for graduation. Under his leadership, African American students came to constitute a greater percentage of the law school student body than in any other non-historically black law school.
A cheerful and outspoken liberal, he relished controversy. At Tulane, he publicly defended the law school's Environmental Clinic when it ran afoul of powerful chemical and oil companies in Louisiana. He also defended the Tulane Appellate Advocacy Program's involvement in a Supreme Court suit against a local utility. During his tenure, Tulane also published the nation's first gay law journal.
Mr. Kramer was born in New York City and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University in 1958-59 and received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1962. He clerked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1965, he became counsel to U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) on the House Committee on Education and Labor, handling anti-poverty legislation and the first Higher Education Act. As executive director of the National Council on Hunger and Malnutrition in the late 1960s and 1970s, he drafted much of the existing legislation on food stamps and school meals. He also created the Project for Older Prisoners, which offers legal advice and representation to elderly prisoners with long sentences.
In 1975, when Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) took over as chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, Mr. Kramer became his special counsel. He continued in that position after moving to Georgetown's law school.
"John was one of the most intelligent, brightest people I've ever met," said Foley, a former speaker of the House. "He had a quicksilver mind and was able to ingest an unbelievable amount of information and data. At the same time, he had a warmth of spirit that was absolutely infectious."
His wife, Sandra Scarbrough Kramer, noted that Mr. Kramer loved Capitol Hill, particularly the House, and he loved the history of the law. "He was a product of his times, and there were so many issues that were bigger than the law," she said, noting that academic law allowed him to indulge his multiplicity of interests.
"John Kramer lived life large and exuberant," Wally Mlyniec, his successor at Georgetown as associate dean, said in a prepared statement. "At Georgetown he was a brilliant, yet amusing and accessible teacher. Students loved him, and his colleagues admired him."
As an attorney he represented a wide range of clients, including the Federal Employees Against the War in Vietnam, the Mattachine Society, Students for a Democratic Society, the National Pork Producers (to allow them to call pork the other white meat) and the United Gamefowl Breeders of American (to preserve cockfighting in Louisiana).
He was president of the Field Foundation from 1981 to 1991 and founding chair of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities from 1981 to 2002. He also was consulting editor of "Hunger USA" (1969) and the author of "Hunger USA Revisited" (1972).
His marriage to Deborah Dammon ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 38 years, of New Orleans; two sons from his first marriage, Dr. Christopher Kramer of Charlottesville and Daniel R. Kramer of New York City; a stepson, Gladstone N. Jones III of New York City and New Orleans; and a son from his second marriage, Andrew L. Kramer of New Orleans; a sister; a stepbrother; and five grandchildren.
Mr. Kramer loved New Orleans and, after Hurricane Katrina, was concerned about the split between black and white communities in the city and about the deep-rooted poverty the hurricane exposed. Although he wasn't Catholic and wasn't black, his concern about race relations prompted his family to hold his funeral at St. Augustine's Catholic Church, which is in the oldest predominantly African American parish in New Orleans and is now scheduled for closure.