“Well, then, we’ll just have to take care of that,” John said. John had just heard from his young office assistant that she was barred from undergraduate admission to the University of Virginia because she was a woman.
John C. Lowe spent his long legal career frequently getting involved with legal battles for liberal causes: women looking for equal rights, veterans being prosecuted for offenses against the military, and more. But to us he was John. He was a Franciscan, and a long time parishioner. Warm, welcoming, and humble.
John died nearly three years years ago, and only then did many of us here at St. Francis learn of the high-profile cases that marked his legal career. John rarely talked about his professional accomplishments. Instead, he was fond of telling the story of how he may have been the last person to have tackled the All American and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown all on his own. Reared on Long Island, New York, it was in town league football at about the age of eleven when John’s and Jim’s legs became entangled when John was trying to awkwardly tackle Jim. John would laugh at himself when he told the story, proud he did it and realistic enough to know it was an accident.
Late in his life he was still active at the church and spearheaded the St. Francis’ annual commitment annually during Christmas week to the Hypothermia Shelter housed at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Herndon. John was also active on our Outreach Committee and in committing random acts of kindness for folks down on their luck, in need of dollar, a meal, or legal services. He served as the Chair of the Country Fair, and a member of the Endowment Committee. And sometimes he sat in the church office and answered the phone just to give our parish administrator a day off.
A few weeks before John died, the University of Virginia (UVA) recognized and honored his role in the collaboration that brought about full coeducation at UVA. “A Hero of Coeducation at UVA,” they called him. At the time of the lawsuit, John was a recent UVA Law School graduate. This month, the University of Virginia magazine published an article recalling the details of the lawsuit which John initiated to overturn the University of Virginia’s male-only undergraduate admissions policy. I commend both articles for your reading.
As part of John’s story, he passed away on the night of October 15, 2017 at the age of 80, watching sports on his computer and enjoying his nightly bowl of ice cream. He lived life as a faithful Christian committed to living out his baptismal commitments, as a lawyer who believed the rights were for all citizens, and as a man of humor and grace. He lived a life that was both modest and monumental.
Richard Gard, “Not Without a Fight: The lawsuit that got UVA to coeducate,” Virginia Magazine, Fall 2020. https://uvamagazine.org/articles/uva_admission_women_legal_fight
Jane Kelly, “John Lowe ’67: A Hero of Coeducation at UVA,” Sept. 29, 2017. https://www.law.virginia.edu/news/201709/john-lowe-67-hero-coeducation-uva
Photo by John C. Lowe, lawyer. (Dan Addison-University of Virginia Communications) all rights reserved.