Professor Honnold, Law

John O. Honnold, the William A. Schnader Professor of Commercial Law Emeritus at Penn Law, died on January 21, 2011. He was 95 years old.

“John was a devoted member of the Penn Law community and an internationally renowned scholar who was passionate about using the law as an instrument of social change,” said Penn Law Dean Michael A. Fitts. “His extraordinary contributions to the legal field—from helping to create the UCC, to shaping the law of international trade, to advocating for civil rights during the tumultuous 1960s—will influence and impact generations.”

Professor Honnold was a member of the Penn Law faculty from 1946 to 1969, and again from 1974 until his retirement in 1984. He continued teaching as an emeritus professor until 1993. His contributions to the Law School include building a graduate program in law, which today welcomes 100 students each year from around the world. Professor Honnold was known for a classroom style that made his subject come alive. Emeritus Professor Curtis Reitz described him as a teacher who “transcended courses and subject matter” to “leave a lasting imprint on the whole personality of his students.”

Professor Honnold did significant work in the field of legal reform. In the 1950s, he was instrumental in preparing the Sales Article of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) and defending the new Code against those who didn’t understand the importance of an updated sales law.

Through his work in sales and sales financing, Professor Honnold became aware of a need for unification of the law governing international transactions in the field. He subsequently represented the United States at the International Conference on the Unification of Commercial Law held at The Hague in 1964.

When the United Nations established a Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) in 1969, Professor Honnold served as chief of the legal staff assigned to the Commission from 1969 to 1974. During this time, he established the organizational framework that was instrumental to the Commission’s success in addressing the international sale of goods.

Professor Honnold returned to Penn Law in 1974 but continued working on and advocating acceptance of the UNCITRAL draft. In 1980, the draft was adopted at the UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods in Vienna, Austria. For his work leading up to the adoption, Professor Honnold became known as the “father of the Vienna Convention.”

“John’s work in the arena of international law reform was an inspiration to me,” said Professor Charles Mooney. “I have represented the United States government at more governmental experts meetings than I wish to recall and at three diplomatic conferences,” continued Professor Mooney. “In every case I received many requests to pass on other participants’ well wishes to John. He made many friends along the way as he earned their great respect for his diplomacy, his judgment, and his powerful mind.”

Professor Honnold’s interest in the law in action extended to a commitment to using the legal system to achieve social change. In 1965, when the civil rights struggle was erupting in the South, he volunteered as chief counsel in the Mississippi Office of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. From this experience, he became a director of the American Friends Service Committee and a member of its executive committee.

Before he joined Penn Law, Professor Honnold worked at the SEC and, during World War II, as chief of the Court Review Branch in the Chief Counsel’s Office of the Price Administration, defending the actions of the Office against businesses that were inflating prices due to the war. He began his career in private practice at a New York firm.

Professor Honnold earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois and his law degree from Harvard University.

He wrote several influential books, including Sales Transactions: Domestic and International Law (with Curtis Reitz) and Security Interests in Personal Property (with Steven Harris and Charles Mooney).

Among his many honors were the Fulbright Senior Research Scholarship award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a visiting appointment to the Arthur Goodhart Professorship in the Science of Law at Cambridge University and the Theberge Prize for Private International Law.

Professor Honnold is survived by his wife, Annamarie; and children, Heidi Spencer and Edward Honnold.

Contributions may be made to the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia.