Law school dean served students, community

By Cara Hayden

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

W. Edward Sell was a fixture at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law for more than five decades.

"Dean Sell was not only a great law professor and dean, he was a great counselor, adviser and friend," said U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, of Utah, a Baldwin Borough native and one of Mr. Sell's former students. "I admire him so much, and will forever be indebted for the knowledge, kindness and goodwill he imparted to me."

Mr. Sell, the dean emeritus and distinguished professor of law emeritus at Pitt, died in his sleep Sunday, Aug. 15, 2004, at his home in Mt. Lebanon. He was 81.

"I can't even count the thousands who have benefited from his teaching," said Bill Lerach, who was a student in Mr. Sell's corporations law course and served as the lead lawyer for plaintiffs in the Enron case. "I thought Ed Sell did a great job of giving us an overview of the law we needed."

Mr. Sell was born Jan. 1, 1923, in Hanover, York County, to Henry Abraham and Blanch Neuman Sell. He received a bachelor's degree from Washington & Jefferson College in 1944 and a doctorate in law from Yale in 1947.

Mr. Sell was hired as an instructor at Pitt's School of Law in 1947, and was promoted through the ranks to dean of the law school, a position he held from 1966-77. During his term, he lobbied for the construction of the law school building, which today stands on Forbes Avenue. Law classes previously had met in the Cathedral of Learning.

"He was the dean who saved the law school and built the law school," said Harry Fleckner, a colleague and law professor at Pitt. "But what made Ed stand out was his unbelievable dedication."

Mr. Sell, who wrote "The Law Down," a book detailing the history of the law school, still taught a full load of classes even though he had officially retired. He was scheduled to teach several classes during the fall semester, which begins next week.

After observing Mr. Sell teach more than 20 years ago, his son, Dr. Jeffrey E. Sell, understood why the university honored his father with its 1986 Excellence in Teaching Award and the 1990 Chancellor's Distinguished Teaching Award.

"It was the first time I think I really saw him doing the thing he loved to do most. He was just a whole amazing person, doing that," said Jeffrey Sell, a surgeon with MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates in Baltimore. "The most thrilling thing for me was to see how well he did it."

Mr. Sell met his future wife, Cordelia, on a blind date at the University Club in 1948. He proposed on Valentine's Day the following year, and they were married in Heinz Chapel.

Mr. Sell was an active community leader. He served as director emeritus of St. Clair Memorial Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, past president of the Little Lake Theatre Co. in Washington County, president of the South Hills Child Guidance Center, chair of Mt. Lebanon's Civil Service Commission, vice chair for Citizens for a Mt. Lebanon Safety Center and member of the Committee of Citizens for Public Library Drive.

He was an ordained elder at Southminster Presbyterian Church, where he served as head usher and taught men's Bible classes.

Mr. Sell is survived by his son, Dr. Jeffrey Sell, of Baltimore; a sister, Eleanor Scheeley, of York, York County; and three grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his wife, Cordelia F. Sell, and a sister, Henrietta Williams.

Arrangements are being handled by Laughlin Funeral Home, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon.