2006 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumni Award
W.H. Joe Knight Jr. ’76
His first semester at Carolina, Joe Knight partied with the best of them, his friends said. Then first-semester grades came out, surprising many of his friends when they saw that Knight had made the honor roll.
“When the parties ended at 1 or 2 in the morning,” said Bobby Wynn ’76, “Joe went back to his room and studied.”
Classmate Patricia Timmons-Goodson ’76 added, “He had a good time, but he always remembered his priorities, why he was there.”
Even as an undergraduate studying economics, speech and political science, Joe knew he wanted a career in law. He, Wynn and Timmons-Goodsen were part of a small group of students determined to become lawyers. Knight completed his law degree at Columbia University School of Law in 1979, then represented Colonial Bancorp in Connecticut before entering academia. He joined the faculty of the University of Iowa’s College of Law in 1988, specializing in commercial law and serving as the university’s vice provost from 1997 through 2000. As a visiting professor at Duke University’s School of Law, he earned the outstanding teacher award in 1991.
In 2001, he was brought to the University of Washington School of Law as dean and professor at a time when the school wanted to increase its national visibility. Joe did not disappoint. He provided administrative leadership as new facilities were built. He created a graduate program in intellectual property law and raised more than $60 million in donations. He encouraged funded research that has brought in more than $4 million. He is active in a number of organizations, including the Law School Admissions Council, the American Law Institute and the Society of American Law Teachers, and also serves on the board of directors of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Most recently, Joe has been working with Washington state legislators to amend Initiative 200, known as the state’s Civil Rights Initiative, which banned racially based admissions program in higher education.
Timmons-Goodson says Joe has held leadership positions in anything he has been involved in since the days when they were both resident advisers at Carolina. “He’s fun, and at the same time, he has a commanding presence,” she said. “Part of it is his height, and you have to remember at that time we were all wearing afros, which made you appear even taller.”
His uncommonly extensive network of friends and colleagues speaks to his winning ways. Michelle Allison-Davis ’80 was a freshman when Joe, then a senior, was her R.A. at Hinton James dorm. “I don’t think he ever meets anybody who is not going to become his friend,” Allison-Davis said. “He is a very warm and engaging person, who is always willing to go that extra mile if you need him.”
He went those extra miles literally, his friends recall, often coming up with an idea that they ought to go someplace far away just for the adventure of it.
Wynn said he thinks Joe considers his greatest achievement in life to be raising two fabulous children with his wife, Susan Mask, who is also a lawyer. Their daughter, Lauren, is a student at Carolina, and their son, Michael, attends the State University of New York in Albany on a basketball scholarship.
The Harvey E. Beech Award is no surprise to those who know Joe. Whether or not they agreed with him, they knew what he had to say would be well-reasoned and well-spoken.
When Joe talked, people listened.