J.W. Looney, Former School of Law Dean, Dies at Age 74

J.W. "Jake" Looney, Official Dean's Portrait
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J.W. "Jake" Looney, Official Dean's Portrait

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Hon. Jerry Wayne "Jake" Looney, former dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law and founder of the school's LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law, died Oct. 22 in Mena.  

Looney joined the School of Law in 1980 to create a Master of Laws program in the then-bourgeoning field of agricultural law. He served as the inaugural program director from 1980-82. He was the natural choice for the job according to Susan Schneider, the William H. Enfield Professor of Law and the current director of the LL.M. Program in Agriculture and Food Law.  

"In 1978, when the faculty voted to set up an LL.M. program in agricultural law, the person they looked to was Jake Looney," said Schneider. "He already had a very distinguished background in agricultural law with master degrees in animal science and agricultural economics, along with a J.D., and had taught at the University of Missouri, Virginia Tech and Kansas State."

After only two years at the university, Looney was named the seventh dean of the School of Law. Under his leadership, the school sought to neither overemphasize nor neglect Arkansas Law, provide a broad view of the American legal system and graduate students prepared to practice law anywhere.

"Our standards are high," Looney wrote in a letter for the law school's 1985-87 course catalog. "Our students work hard. The study of law, like the practice of law, is demanding. It should, however, also be enjoyable."

In 1990, Looney returned to the faculty to teach in both the J.D. and LL.M. programs. His courses included water law, environmental law, contracts, sales, comparative law and international law in addition to an array of courses on agricultural law. He was known as a consummate educator and was chosen as teacher of the year by the class of 1999.  

"I knew I wanted to teach and one of the big parts of the instruction for me in law school was to watch other teachers," said Katherine Shurlds (J.D. '94), a retired journalism professor and one of Looney's students. "He was such a good teacher, such a good teacher! I took water law because Jake taught it my final semester." 

He retired from the U of A in 2000 and moved back to his hometown of Mena where he returned to farming and began his judicial career. Along with his wife, Looney owned and operated Shadowridge Ranch, a commercial cattle operation in Polk County where they also raised spotted donkeys. In addition to 40 years practicing law and 20 years of teaching, Looney served as a judge for the 18th West Judicial Circuit (2003-14) and Polk County District Court (2014-16).

Throughout his career, he published more than 150 articles and several books. His final book, Distinguishing the Righteous from the Roguish: The Arkansas Supreme Court, 1836-1874, was published by the University of Arkansas Press in 2016.

His vast awards and associations include: founding member and president of the American Agricultural Law Association, member of the American Judges Association and faculty member of the National Judicial College. He taught at many colleges and universities and was admitted to practice law in Arkansas, Missouri and Virginia.

Looney received a Bachelor of Science in agriculture from the University of Arkansas (1966), a Master of Science in animal science and another in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri (1968, 1976) and a Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri at Kansas City (1971). He earned three more advanced degrees while sitting on the bench: a Master of Arts in history from the University of Arkansas (2010) and a Masters and Doctorate of Judicial Studies (2008, 2012) through a joint program between the National Judicial College and the University of Nevada-Reno. 

He was preceded in death by his biological parents, Lee and Eunice Looney; foster parents, Uncle Clarence and Aunt Fairy Medford; three biological brothers Bill Looney, Darrell Looney and Alton Looney; and biological sister, Vera Lee Blake. He is survived by his wife of more than 53 years, Era Brown Furr Looney; son, Jason Medford Looney, and his wife Cher Mae Looney; and sister, Alla B. Medford Curry Miller. 

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the First United Methodist Church in Mena, followed by interment at Cherry Hill Cemetery.


Jackie Stites, communications specialist
School of Law
479-575-2814, jstites@uark.edu

Darinda Sharp, director of communications
School of Law
479-575-7417, dsharp@uark.edu


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