Obituary for Stuart Scheingold, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Washington, known for his pioneering scholarship in law, society and politics.

Share story

Not only was he an eminent scholar, Stuart Scheingold was always warm and gracious with his University of Washington colleagues. It was a testimony to the humble character of a man who spent his career working to better society.

“He walked the walk in his everyday personal relationships,” said Michael McCann, a UW colleague and professor of political science who quickly befriended Professor Scheingold after joining the department in 1982.

Professor Scheingold, a UW professor emeritus of political science renowned for his work in law, society and politics, died in Seattle Thursday of leukemia. He was 78.

A meticulous dresser known for pressed bluejeans and blue blazer with leather patches, he was admired for his work on the politics of crime and punishment and his research of lawyers who use their legal skills to advance social justice.

“He was quite simply one of the world’s leading commentators on law and politics,” said Amherst College’s Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science with whom Professor Scheingold directed the multivolume, internationally oriented Cause Lawyering Project.

But he was also known for his humility, a man of intellect and heart who helped launch the careers of others interested in social justice.

“His mentoring is the reason I have had any success at all as an academic,” said professor Lisa Miller of Rutgers University, in an e-mail to Professor Scheingold’s widow, Lee Scheingold. “He had integrity, passion, genuineness and wit. I learned from him how to be a scholar, a researcher and a colleague.”

Born and raised in Cleveland, Professor Scheingold pursued accounting at Ohio State, but that career was short-lived. In New York, one manager called him the worst accountant he’d ever met.

So after a two-year stint in the Air Force, Professor Scheingold earned a doctorate in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, before teaching at several schools, including UC-Davis and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he would meet his future wife.

He and Lee married in 1968 and the next year moved to Seattle, where he’d been hired at UW.

Professor Scheingold wrote or edited 15 books, a leading commentator on law and politics. His 1974 book, “The Politics of Rights: Lawyers, Public Policy and Political Change” is regarded as a classic of socio-legal studies, praised by Berkeley law professor Malcolm Feeley as “the best single book on law and politics in the United States.”

“His intellectual legacy is both broad and deep,” the Law and Society Association said upon conferring Professor Scheingold with its Harry J. Kalven Jr. Prize in 2001.

In 2004, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Political Science Association, and last year, UW created a professorship — the Stuart A. Scheingold Professor of Social Justice — in his honor.

“He was a demanding and original intellectual,” McCann said.

Professor Scheingold, a fitness buff who ran Green Lake before it became fashionable, loved jazz and red wine, and he kept dinner companions amused with his often self-deprecating stories.

For someone so athletic, leukemia was a difficult challenge. Uncertainty toyed with the plans of a man who cared about predictability and order. “But he bore it with great grace and equanimity,” McCann said.

And in those final five years, he managed to write a final book, “The Political Novel: Re-Imagining the Twentieth Century,” which was rushed into publication so that Professor Scheingold, in his hospital bed, was able to hold it and look it over.

Several weeks ago, Lee Scheingold said, her husband wrote to each of his graduate students to say it was time to say goodbye, and each replied with his or her own tributes. “In that respect, it was a very good death,” she said. “He really did it up right.”

A memorial service will be held at the UW in October.

Remembrances may be made through the UW Foundation to the Stuart and Lee Scheingold Endowed Fund in Social Justice and should be sent to Ann Buscherfeld, Department of Political Science. Alternately, donations may be made to the Group Health Foundation, Dept. 4194, P.O. Box 34936, Seattle, WA 98124-1936.

Marc Ramirez: 206-464-8102 or mramirez@seattletimes.com