An Old Friend’s Tribute to Pat O’Neal

By: Charles R. Adams III (CLA ’80, LAW ’83)
Student Worker, Mercer Law Library, 1978-1980
Mercer Law Student, 1980-1983
Adjunct Professor, 1983-Present

Back in 1998, I was privileged to write the fiftieth anniversary history of Mercer Law Review. In that article, I said the following in a footnote about Pat:

Patricia Beauchamp "Pat" O'Neal was a fixture at the Mercer Law Library for many years. Following her graduation, she served as interim Director of Mercer Law Library during Jim Rehberg's leave of absence in 1952-1953. She returned in 1978, and served until her retirement in 1996 [and also part-time from 2000-2004]. Pat established a high standard of courteous, professional assistance to library patrons, coupled with unfailing good cheer, which continues to this day under the leadership of ... Suzanne L. Cassidy (Member, Mercer Law Review, 1979-1981; Associate Fifth Circuit Editor, 1981). Pat, seemingly without effort, made the transition from the era of card catalogs and doing everything by hand into the computer age, and she taught a whole generation of us not only how to do research like real lawyers, but also how to act like real ladies and gentlemen.

(Charles R. Adams III, “Lest We Forget”: The History of Mercer Law Review, 50 MERCER L. REV. 7, 9 n.11 (1998)).

As those who knew her across more than six decades of association with our school will attest, however, Pat was far more than a ‘footnote’ at Mercer Law School. She was one of the best-known and most beloved figures ever to grace these halls. I was a student assistant in the law library during my undergraduate days, from 1978 until I started law school in 1980, and I got to know Pat really well back then. She was quite simply one of the most pleasant and gracious people I ever had the privilege of knowing. I never heard Pat say a bad or critical word about anybody, or saw her angry or upset with anybody, although I remember a few who worked pretty hard to deserve it!

Pat was one of the original student members of the Mercer Law Review, and along with Lanelle Rimes, was one of the first two female members, during a time when women law students were still very much the exception. As Book Review Editor for the Spring, 1950 edition, Pat was also the first female editor of Mercer Law Review.

Pat never ceased to learn. In the Spring of 1983, Professor Hal Lewis offered a course in Copyright Law for the first time, and Pat took the class along with a bunch of us sixth-semester seniors. The class met at 8:00 a.m., and we were all studying for the Bar Exam during the first half of the semester, so we wound up counting on Pat to tell us what Professor Lewis had said on more than one occasion!

She was at home anywhere, from the library stacks to mucking out the goldfish pond in her garden. For many years, during and after my time as a student, Pat, my wife Cynthia, and I would take off to the Atlanta Opera every spring. Pat would pack a picnic supper, and we would get up there early and have our own pre-opera "tailgate party" in the parking lot of the Civic Center. I can still see Pat, very much at home in an evening dress, enjoying wine, cheese, and finger sandwiches from the back of my pickup truck. But the place in this world I think Pat was most at home was at her beloved Martha Bowman United Methodist Church, where she was an active member for most of her life.

I last talked with her just a few weeks before she died about bringing her to Reynold Kosek's memorial service here at the law school this past spring. She was so much looking forward to seeing all her old friends there. However, to our loss, Pat didn’t make it back for that one final trip to this law school where she had meant so much to so many for so long. Instead, the Lord she loved had a greater journey in store for her.

Pat, we miss you, but we'll look forward to seeing you one day in Hallelujah Square!