In Remembrance: George Nelson Gafford ’36 Died on December 6 2014

The world lost a true gentleman on December 6, 2014, when George Nelson Gafford, 98, passed away at home in La Jolla, California.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 25, 1916, to first-generation Hungarian immigrant parents, Mr. Gafford was educated in Cleveland Heights and Griffon House School in London.  He received a four-year scholarship to Yale College, where he was on the three-man epee fencing team that won the intercollegiate fencing championship.  He went on to qualify as a member of the US Olympic fencing squad.  He graduated cum laude with AB orations appointment from Yale in 1936.  Mr. Gafford received his JD from Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1939, where he was vice president of the Student Bar Association, received the Order of the Coif, and graduated first in his class.

Immediately after law school, Mr. Gafford worked for the US Securities and Exchange Commission, where he took on civil and criminal investigations, civil federal litigation, and was special assistant to the US attorney for criminal litigation.  During World War II, he joined the US Army Air Corps as a civilian, where he specialized in counter-espionage and counter-sabotage as well as labor negotiations.  He then joined the US Navy for active duty from 1942 to 1946, where he was first introduced to San Diego.  As a lieutenant, after Midshipman School and Anti-submarine Warfare School, he became executive officer of PC 816, a submarine chaser, for the West Coast Frontier Command.  Later, after Civil Affairs Training School, Mr. Gafford served as military governor in Ulsan Gun, Korea, and, following the war, he served in the US Naval Reserve from 1946 to 1962.

Returning to Ohio after WWII, Mr. Gafford was in private practice from 1946 to 1969.  He served as assistant attorney general of Ohio and was adjunct professor at Cleveland College, Case Western Reserve University, and Cleveland State University School of Law, cultivating a deep love of teaching.

Realizing he could teach in a beautiful place and play tennis year-round, Mr. Gafford moved to La Jolla in 1969 and became a full-time professor at California Western School of Law, where he taught until 1986.  He devised the strategy and negotiated the purchase of California Western by a nonprofit corporation from United States International University, creating a newly independent law school in 1975.  There he coached law school jury trial, appellate moot court, patent court, and client counseling teams, achieving three national championships.  After his retirement, Professor Emeritus Gafford served on the school’s board of trustees for 25 years, including as chairman.  The moot courtroom and the intramural trial competition at California Western bear his name in honor of his role in launching the school’s successful team competitions.

Mr. Gafford contributed much to his community, serving on the board of directors or board of trustees for numerous organizations, including La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Symphony Pops, San Diego Museum of Art (Collection Committee), and Mainly Mozart.  He was a member of the University Club and La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club.  He authored four books:  Odyssey of a Law School, Lawyers Are Us, 80 Years of Adventure, and Take It Easy!, based on his signature phrase.

George Gafford had a zest for life, loved traveling the world, and  was kind and wise.  Though his body failed, his pride and intellect never waned.  Our lives have been immeasurably enriched by knowing and loving him.

Mr. Gafford is survived by his wife of 34 years, Martha Austin Gafford; his children: Gerald Cockrell of Abilene, Texas; Jana Bartlit and her husband Fred Bartlit of Castle Pines, Colorado; and Kathryn “Casey” Bolinger and her husband Timothy William Bolinger of Scottsdale, Arizona; as well as five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and four nieces and their families.  George was preceded in death by his first wife, Toni Mehas Gafford; daughter Diane Gafford; son Frank Cockrell; sister Joyce Grant; and his son Gerry’s wife, Maxine Cockrell.

George N. Gafford will be interred at El Camino Mausoleum in a family crypt.   A gathering to celebrate his life will be held in January.  Memorial donations may be made to George N. Gafford Moot Court Fund at California Western School of Law, 225 Cedar Street, San Diego, CA 92101 or the San Diego Symphony, 1245 Seventh Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101.

—Submitted by the family.

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