Please remember in your prayers 1936 College of St. Thomas graduate Robert Sheran, a former St. Thomas trustee and Minnesota chief justice who died Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the age of 96.
“Robert Sheran ’36 was perhaps the best debater produced by St. Thomas in the golden era of forensics, and he went on to serve two stints on the Minnesota Supreme Court, one as chief justice,” wrote Richard Conklin ’58 in 125 Years: A Look at Interesting and Influential People in the History of St. Thomas.
Conklin’s entry on Sheran continued:
“He was on the debate team, coached by legendary public-speaking instructor Owen McElmeel, from 1932 to 1936, and the team won the national Pi Delta Kappa debate championship in his senior year. Teamed with students such as future railroad executive William Quinn (also a former trustee) and distinguished academician Abraham Kaplan, Sheran twice won the Northwest Debate tournament.
“He went on to get his law degree from the University of Minnesota and practice law privately while serving two terms in the Minnesota Legislature. Admired across political lines, he was appointed an associate justice by a Republican governor in 1963, and after resigning in 1970 to return to private practice he was reappointed, this time as chief justice, by a DFL governor in 1973. When he stepped down in 1981, a longtime colleague offered this assessment: ‘He is probably the best-qualified and most-effective chief justice I can remember.’
“Sheran was a fervent supporter of private education, which he saw as existing to further faith and conviction in the face of corrosive social trends. ‘There is no more effective way of speaking for the things in which we believe than to support firmly, persistently and constantly the role of private education,’ he once stated, recalling several St. Thomas professors ‘whose influence upon the way we think has persisted through the years.’ ”
St. Thomas archivist Anne Kenne provide a glimpse of the “golden era of forensics” in this entry in the spring 2003 issue of St. Thomas magazine: “Coached by public-speaking instructor Owen McElmeel, the debate teams from St. Thomas achieved prominence in the late 1920s and early 1930s, winning the national Pi Delta Kappa debate championships in 1928 and 1936.
“To better prepare them for regional and national competitions, McElmeel often sent his debaters on extensive educational and public-speaking tours. Team members would spend a month on the road traveling by train as far as California to compete against other colleges and universities.”
Sheran served on St. Thomas Board of Trustees from 1964 to 1974, and remained a trustee emeritus until his death. He received the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1971, the first year the annual award was presented.
Visitation will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29, at Washburn-McReavy, 5000 W. 50th St., Edina. The funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 30, at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Edina.