Dean Michael A. Simons and the faculty, staff, and alumni of St. John’s Law mourn the loss of their beloved colleague, teacher, and friend David L. Gregory, who served as the Law School’s Dorothy Day Professor of Law from in 1982 to 2017.
Professor Gregory came to St. John’s after working as an equal employment opportunity counselor with the Postal Service, a labor relations representative with Ford Motor Company, and an attorney with a prominent management labor and employment law firm in Detroit. He brought a keen intellect, a love of teaching and learning, and an encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll to the classroom, where he enthralled generations of students.
And his students were always at the heart of Professor Gregory’s endeavors at the Law School, where he founded the Center for Labor and Employment Law with a focus on the importance, and the sanctity, of doing good work in the world. “The Center strives to show students, by engagement and example, that they can be successful practitioners who also give back to their communities,” Professor Gregory said early on.
Under his leadership, the Center met its mission with a range of offerings, from courses in Employment Discrimination, Labor and Employment Arbitration, Public Sector Labor and Employment Law, and ERISA to international conferences and symposia in Dublin, at the University of London, and at Cambridge University, to distinguished guest speakers at the Law School―including three chairs of the National Labor Relations Board, a Solicitor General of the United States, a former EEOC chairman, AFL-CIO presidents, His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan, the late Archbishop of New York, and Cesar Chavez, founder of United Farm Workers of America, among others.
Today, the Center for Labor and Employment Law continues this important work at and beyond St. John’s Law. “David built the Center as an unrivaled learning environment, where students are exposed to the practice of labor and employment law, and where they engage in important and enlightening conversations with our alumni and other influencers in the field,” Dean Simons says. “When he moved out west a few years ago to be with family, he left the Center in the able hands of his colleague and friend, Professor David Marshall, and it's thriving.”
Throughout his years at St. John’s, as he taught students and guided the Center, Professor Gregory remained a prolific scholar and contributor to academic and professional life. He pioneered the field of Catholic social thought and the law and delivered the annual St. Vincent de Paul lecture at DePaul University. His many publications in leading scholarly journals include the only law review article about Antoine-Frédéric Ozanam, the Vincentian layman who founded the Society of Saint Vincent DePaul..
Professor Gregory’s mission-driven work took him outside the academy as well. He was very active in the Catholic Worker movement, which is committed to living a simple lifestyle in community, to serving the poor, and to resisting war and social injustice. He also supported the local Catholic Lawyers Guilds, and the efforts of the Catholic organization Opus Dei to educate impoverished children in the South Bronx.
His work in the academy and in the field earned Professor Gregory wide recognition. He wrote a prize-winning paper for the St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society and received the St. John’s University Founder’s Day Award. The Law School’s Student Bar Association named him Faculty Advisor and Mentor of the Year, and he was the recipient of the Faculty Outstanding Achievement Award conferred by the St. John’s University. Most recently, he became the first-ever Law School faculty member to receive St. John’s prestigious Vincentian Mission Award.
The submissions in support of Professor Gregory’s candidacy for that honor were filled with tributes to a humble man of deep faith who infused his work with the Vincentian philosophy of individual dignity, social justice, and upliftment of others.
“Consistent with the University’s Vincentian mission, Professor Gregory is a true advocate for his students,” wrote Ana C. Shields ’03, a principal at Jackson Lewis P.C. “He presents them, especially those lacking economic or social advantages, with critical opportunities to meet and to interact with an incredible network of alumni that he has helped to build. He is a wonderful mentor.”
Ralph Carter ’14, an associate at Duane Morris LLP who received multiple scholarships for excellence in labor and employment law while at St. John’s, agreed, writing in his submission: “Professor Gregory is unrelenting in his support of his students, and his door is always open to those seeking the benefit of his considerable experience. There are so many of us who owe him so much. He has an uncanny ability to see in his students their potential and to show them what they can attain and how to get there, even when the student believes that the goal is something beyond reach.”
Professor Gregory’s selflessness was also a focal point for Seyfarth Shaw LLP partner Robert J. Nobile, who submitted: “I’ve known Professor Gregory for over 34 years, and I had the distinct honor being one of his first students. He’s been a coach, guide, mentor, and friend to me and to countless other St. John’s students. He’s a person who always goes out of his way to help and guide others in every way possible, and is literally available 24/7/365. I can think of no other individual who is so giving of himself to others in all that he does. And I can think of no one more well-deserving of the Vincentian Mission Award for all of his marked contributions.”
That signature selflessness was on full display when Professor Gregory accepted the Vincentian Mission Award with this heartfelt message: “The Servant of God Dorothy Day is my special heroine. [She teaches us] that we can become better than we are, and that the best way is to practice good habits day by day.”
As the Law School community mourns this profound loss, Dean Simons recalls a message he shared with celebrants during a student-hosted “roast” of Professor Gregory in 2013: “David exemplifies what it means to be a law professor. He is a dedicated teacher, a caring mentor, a prolific scholar, and an indefatigable institution builder. He has single-handedly created one of the finest labor and employment law programs in the country. He has worked tirelessly to promote his students and to launch their careers. His legal expertise is in labor and employment law, but he has lived his professional life by the Biblical command to 'serve one another through love.’ Tonight we celebrate a true servant."
Professor Gregory’s special legacy lives on in his wife, Garris Leisten-Gregory, and their son, Davy. It also continues through the David Gregory Labor and Employment Law Scholarship, which was established by family, friends, alumni, and colleagues in Professor Gregory’s honor to benefit St. John’s Law students who want to practice in the field of labor and employment law.
If you would like to honor Professor Gregory’s memory by supporting the Scholarship, please visit our online giving page at www.stjohns.edu/law-giving, choose Student Scholarships from the menu under Select a Designation, and then scroll to and select the David Gregory Labor and Employment Law Scholarship.