Henry Ramsey Jr. was involved in every facet of the law in his 30-plus year career. He started as a deputy district attorney, moved into private practice, was elevated to judge, taught law and served as dean at the Howard University Law School.
When he died after suffering a stroke March 14, acquaintances said the world lost a brilliant legal mind. He took over as dean at Howard’s law school in 1990, an imposing figure in a field of impressive legal minds.
“He wore bow ties all the time,” said Orlan Johnson, an intellectual properties lawyer and former Howard Law School professor who lives in Bowie, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C.. “He reminded you of someone in academia. He had a very professorial intellect. You never saw him not looking the part of being an academician.”
Johnson said prior to becoming Dean of the Law School, Ramsey had no connection to Howard, but was hired because of his strong credentials.
“He had no connection to the law school,” Johnson said. “He was one of the deans who quote unquote didn’t have a Howard background. He was part of the legacy of outside people coming in to take leadership positions. Whenever you go outside the family, things can get tough, but he was well respected in what he brought.”
Among Ramsey’s priorities was improving the law school’s bar passage rate.
“He brought a lot of structure and discipline, as well as a high level of focus on academics,” Johnson said. “He believed in the Howard tradition of being a civil engineer, but he also felt that should be coupled with strong academic achievement.”
Ramsey came to Howard after an illustrious career. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside in 1960 and his law degree from the University of California’s Berkeley (Boalt Hall) School of Law.
His first job was in the Contra Costa County District’s Attorney’s Office, one of the first African Americans to be hired as a prosecutor there.
After a few years, he moved into private law, focusing on civil and criminal matters, according to his LinkedIn page. From 1981 until 1990, he served as a judge with the Alameda County Superior Court. During the same time, he worked as a law professor at Berkeley. He became dean at Howard in 1990 and retired in 1995.
Besides working in the law, Ramsey served on the Berkeley City Council from 1973 to 1977, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown told the newspaper that he and Ramsey worked together on several cases representing “those who couldn't get representation, like the Black Panthers.” Brown remembered Ramsey as being “forceful” and someone who “caused everyone to be conscious of their own conduct.”
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte told the Chronicle that she remembers Ramsey as a "warrior for justice and fairness and equality in our court system.”
Charles Ramsey, one of Ramsey’s six children, president of the West Contra Costa Unified School District board, said his father taught his children to give back.
"My dad always said, 'You'll be measured as a man not by what you did for yourself, but what you do for others,'" he told the San Francisco newspaper.
Ramsey died Friday at Berkeley’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center after having a stroke at his home.
He is survived by his second wife, Eleanor, and six children.