College of Law

Home About Joe Quinney

About Joe Quinney

S.J. Quinney 1893-1983

Reprinted from Res Gestae magazine, Spring 2002

A Brief History:

S.J. “Joe” Quinney was a talented lawyer, prominent businessman, and ski industry pioneer. He was a founding partner in the distinguished Salt Lake City law firm of Ray, Quinney & Nebeker, where he practiced until his death at age 90. A pioneer in establishing Utah’s ski industry by founding Alta Ski Area, Quinney was a prime force in the development of Utah’s legal and business communities. His enthusiastic, lifelong interest in and support for art and culture broadened the force of his statewide impact.

He was born May 12, 1893, in Logan. He graduated in three years from Utah Agricultural College (later Utah State University) in 1916 and headed off to Massachusetts where he had been accepted at Harvard University Law School. His wife, Jessie Eccles, whom he married in 1917, attended classes at Radcliffe College. Quinney was drafted into the Army, and spent the war years in quarantine at Fort Lewis, Washington, during the infamous influenza epidemic. Jessie had already traveled back to Salt Lake City, where she gave birth to their first child, David, in 1919. (Their second child. Janet arrived in 1922.) Following the war, Quinney resumed his studies at Harvard and graduated in 1919. Upon returning to Utah, he was admitted to the Utah State Bar and began practicing law. From 1921 to 1922, he was a member of the Utah House of Representatives.

During his 60-year legal career, Quinney served as counsel to George S. and Marriner S. Eccles of First Security Corporation, Amalgamated Sugar Company, Utah Intemational, Anderson Lumber, and Pioneer Wholesale Company. He was a member of the Holy Cross Hospital advisory board. a director and officer of the Utah Symphony, and a member and director of the George S. and Dolores Dore‘ Eccles, Nora Eccles Treadwell, and Emma Eccles Jones foundations. He developed, funded, and served on the boards of the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney and the Ray, Quinney & Nebeker foundations.

Together with eight other men, he formed the Salt Lake Winter Sports Association in 1938, which later became the Alta Ski Lifts Company. In 1967, he received the Winter Sports Award from the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, and, in 1975, he was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame.

In addition to his interests in Alta and in skiing, Quinney had a lifelong regard for natural resources and the environment. In middle age, he ran the Snake, Yampa, Green, and Colorado rivers. The Grand Canyon and the red rock country of southern Utah inspired him. His attachment to northern Utah—especially Logan Canyon and his summer home at Bear Lake—was a constant throughout his life. Before his death, Quinney contributed to the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University, and his foundation supported construction of the college’s classroom building and library, in addition to other USU programs. He was a friend of the writer, Wallace Stegner, and, in 1996, a foundation contribution of 82.5 million was donated to support the College of Law’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment; the law library; and student scholarships. It was the college’s largest up to that time, and the library was named for Quinney in 1997.

He was a member of the President’s Club at the U of U and of the Old Main Society at Utah State University, which awarded him an honorary doctorate of Law in 1976. Both Quinney and his wife were named alumni of the year in 1980 for their contributions to USU’s growth.

About the naming of the College:

It looks the same. The college’s brick and glass building still reflects the low, horizontal aesthetic of the 1960s, when architects and planners must have believed that there would always be enough space to build outward. It feels the same. lLs still wonder what universe they’ve landed in. Previous classes, judges, and former deans still peer down from portraits that line the halls, including Judge Tillman Johnson, whose plain, just wisdom still radiates. The wooden phone booth, a touch-tone reminder of the pre-chip era, is still there, waiting for Clark Kent’s emergence as Superman. But perhaps Superman has arrived. The College of Law at the University of Utah may seem the same, but it is a place transformed.

On November 2, 2001, Frederick Q Lawson, grandson of prominent Utah lawyer S.J. Quinney, stood at a podium flanked by multicolored flags in the college’s Rosenblatt Foyer, reflecting on the fact that this naming, like many others, was taking place after the person being honored had passed away. “I want to avoid the impression that the College of Law is being named for a lawyer who died nearly 20 years ago,” he said to the audience of more than 500 students, University officials, and leaders from Utah’s judicial, political, religious, and business communities. “Grandfather’s influence and legacy are alive and well today. The goals, the vision, the ideals he strove to achieve and the aspiration he instilled in all of us are enshrined within his memory. This school will carry on work which he started … and be part and parcel of it.” Lawson was talking about the college’s newly minted name, the S.J. Quinney College of Law, a designation unanimously approved at the beginning of the noon-hour ceremony by the University of Utah board of trustees in recognition of a $26 million gift from the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation.

Previous gifts from the philanthropic organization bring their total contribution to the law school to more than $30 million—the largest endowment gift in the University’s history “This is one of the most joyous and momentous days in the history of this law school,” said Scott M. Matheson, Jr., dean, following the trustees’ brief, formal meeting (which included a conference call to a traveling trustee who was jokingly advised to “watch his language” within earshot of the crowd). “During these challenging times for our nation and our world, occasions like this one reaffirm our basic values and commitments, and take us forward with confidence and hope. Shakespeare wrote, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ But … a name, cultivated through many seasons, can be the sweetest rose of all, or, as Shakespeare also wrote, ‘the immediate jewel of the soul.'”

Bernard Machen, president of the University, added that “today, we enter a new era. I have long recognized what a jewel this college is [and] that [it] excels in spite of significant shortfalls in resources. The Quinney family and the members of the foundation board fully understand the enormous contribution a first-rate law school can make to the state and the nation, and are providing the resources to do just that.”

“Today we have … a chance to move forward in a way we never possibly could have without the generosity of [the Quinney] family,” said David W. Pershing, senior vice president for academic affairs. He recalled last spring’s debriefing by the American Bar Association’s national accreditation panel, which had just spent a week evaluating the college (a process that occurs every seven years). The panel singled out the law school’s faculty—their commitment to teaching and to excellence in scholarship; the student body, which they described as smart, energetic, wonderful; and the library, which they characterized as service-oriented and skillfully developed. Pershing dedicated himself “to working with Dean Matheson and the faculty to build the truly great law school that this is going to give us the ability to create.” He also explained the gift’s impact on the University as a whole, saying that many of the U’s 22,000 undergraduates think of law school as their graduate study trajectory, and that the Quinney resources will enhance the U’s reputation because a first-rate university must have strong professional schools.

Students are the ultimate beneficiaries. “Scholarships will directly aid [them], enrichment programs will enhance their law school experience, professorships will attract the highest caliber faculty, and library and technological developments will allow us to keep pace with the latest in computer technology,” said Barbara J. Dickey, associate dean for student affairs. “We hope that … there will now be even better ways of reaching for and attaining new heights,” Lawson observed. Added Cara Conrad, president of the Student Bar Association, “This is a school that has been underrated, and this will give us the opportunity to be recognized for what we are.”

The gift will support student scholarships, the law library, professorships, and new and existing academic programs. It will invigorate student and faculty recruitment, enhance the curriculum, and secure national recognition for the school’s tradition of ingenuity and excellence in teaching and scholarship. It is planned that the $26 million endowment gift will be paid out over 10 years.

Seizing the momentum sparked by the Quinney gift, Machen announced that the University itself was “stepping up”: the entire southwest corner of the campus, including the college’s current facilities, adjacent Carlson Hall, and the surrounding land would become the site of a new law college campus, a commitment that drew surprised, enthusiastic applause. With the academic opportunities the Quinney endowment provides, said Machen, the next step is to begin “addressing our facility needs.” So much for the college still looking the same!

The $26 million gift represents extraordinary generosity in extraordinary times. In light of economic uncertainty, a war on terrorism unlike anything the United States has ever undertaken, and the ongoing emotional and physical recovery from the terrorist attack of September 11, it is also a statement of courage. The foundation’s board of directors has made a powerful declara-tion about moving forward, and about making commitments to the things that truly matter to us as individuals and as a free society. It is an act meant to inspire. Though the stock market has shown fitful signs of recovery in recent months, there are huge shortfalls in state revenues and huge losses in the endowments of private universities. “Isn’t it only prudent to pull back, hunker down, and wait for a better day …?” challenged Stanley Fish, a dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Fish didn’t think so. The Quinney foundation was there before him.

Herbert C. Livsey, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, a 1969 graduate of the College of Law, and a partner at the Utah law firm of Ray, Quinney & Nebeker, co-founded by Quinney, sketched a lively profile of Joe for the students in attendance as “a first-rate legal scholar and very ethical individual and practitioner. His word was his bond. … On a daily basis, he handled some of the most difficult, complicated, and sensitive legal problems and issues that arose in this state. … His legal analysis was always dear, penetrating, and on point. If you were a young lawyer assisting Joe on a case, you had to be fully prepared. … Joe reviewed your work with his challenging analysis of your development of the facts, your analysis of the law, and your conclusions.” Quinney had a sense of duty to his clients, said Livsey, and, as a bonus, he thoroughly enjoyed his work.

“The twinkle in his eye that you see in his portrait (which hangs in the S.J. Quinney Law Library) is very true-to-life,” Livsey continued. “Joe was a very dynamic individual and had many, varied interests. On Saturday during the winter, Joe could be found in his office listening to the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera from Lincoln Center. When Joe traveled to Europe, he always took his skis and a tuxedo.” Quinney would be deeply honored, said Livsey, to know that the College of Law at the University of Utah has been named for him. “I trust that each of you, as you learn more about Joe Quinney, will be equally honored to attend and graduate from the SJ. Quinney College of Law.”

At a joyful event where acknowledgments, thanks, challenges, and opportunities were endorsed with unqualified enthusiasm, perhaps the most emotional reaction of the day came when Pershing paused to recognize “one of the unsung heroes here today—my dean, Scott. His unfailing commitment made this grand idea a reality.” The foyer reverberated with applause, whistles, and cheers.

“‘We stay only a moment, and then we’re gone,”‘ Matheson responded, closing the program with a quote from the 1977 Utah gubernatorial inaugural address given by his father. “‘While we’re here, we should do what we can to protect the past and secure the future.’ That is exactly what has happened today. The generosity of the Quinney foundation will take this school to the highest levels of quality and accomplishment in legal education.” He pledged to the foundation and to all students past, present, and future, that “we will work harder than ever to live up to the responsibility that has been placed upon us.”

“This day truly is a day of thanksgiving. First and foremost, thank you, again, to the family and the board of directors of the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation. Thank you to the U board of trustees for your support of this University and this law school. Thank you to the students who are with us today who chose to enroll here and make this such a vibrant place to learn. Thank you to the faculty for the exceptional talent and energy you bring to the classroom and to your scholarship.”

Matheson was brought by his parents to visit the school in 1963. They walked through the foyer, climbed the stairs to the second floor, and entered a room. “And in that room was a beautiful table … that my father had donated to the school shortly after his father’s death. There was a plaque [affixed to the table] honoring [my grandfather] as a distinguished lawyer in this community. We still have that table here, and every time I sit at it, I remember him with great honor and pride. I learned early on the significance of a name memorialized in honor. Today, we share with S.J. Quinney the pride and the honor, the sweetness of the rose, the jewel of the soul—the new name of the law school, the S.J. Quinney College of Law.”

To celebrate the 20th anniversary naming of the S.J. Quinney College of Law Joe's family composed and shared the following stories about his extraordinary life.

Joe Quinney – Early Beginnings
Read more »
Joe Quinney — Early Legal Career
Read more »
Joe Quinney’s Office
Read more »
Combining Passions: Law and Skiing
Read more »
The Lifelong Travels of Joe Quinney
Read more »
Finding Hope in the Natural World
Read more »
Joe and His Love & Support of the Arts
Read more »