In memoriam: William O. 'Captain' McLean, associate dean emeritus of the Notre Dame Law School

Author: Michael O. Garvey

William O. "Captain" McLean William O. “Captain” McLean

William O. McLean, associate dean emeritus of the University of the Notre Dame Law School, died Nov. 19 (Tuesday). He was 91.

A native of Greenville, Ill., McLean was a 1957 graduate in school administration from the University of New Mexico and held master degrees in international affairs and education from George Washington University and Notre Dame, respectively. He also was a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College.

McLean entered the U.S. Navy in 1943 as a naval aviation cadet and retired at the rank of captain 32 years later. He came to Notre Dame as a professor of naval science and commanding officer of the Navy ROTC after having served as the senior Navy member of the U.S. delegation to the 1969-1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) with the Soviet Union. He received the Legion of Merit, a presidential award, for his role in those negotiations.

Following his retirement from the Navy, McLean worked for a few months in Notre Dame’s financial aid office before joining the Law School as assistant dean in 1975. McLean had agreed to a brief, six-month appointment, but was persuaded to remain in the Law School administration for the following 19 years, overseeing a dramatic expansion of facilities, an increase in applications and the acquisition of new computer technology.

At Notre Dame, both before and after his retirement from the Navy, McLean was universally and affectionately known and addressed as “Captain,” and he remained a conspicuous presence on campus in the years following his retirement from the faculty. “The Captain loved our students,” said Rev. David T. Link, former dean of the Law School. “From his first glimpse of them in their application papers, through their graduation and beyond, Captain served as friend, mentor and even surrogate father. He rendered solid advice, emotional support and tireless effort. And the students loved him.”

In 1993, those students established in the Captain’s honor the William O. McLean Award, to be given annually to the person who has made the greatest contribution to the lives of Notre Dame Law School students. They named McLean its first recipient.

McLean is survived by his daughter Mary Leigh Hennings of Dayton, Ohio; son and daughter-in-law Danny and Cyndi McLean of Poulsbo, Wa.; grandchildren Holly Gossett and Norm Lacey, Deborah and Cameron Allen, Kerrigan Hennings and Kyle Bonnici, Kevin and Katie McLean, Brian and Katie Sprague, Max Milligan and Tom Gossett; great-grandchildren Lexi and Casey Gossett, Morgan, Maddie and Connor McLean, Ethan and Lucas Sprague and Lucy McLean Allen.

Donations in McLean’s memory may be made to the Notre Dame Law School’s McLean Fellowship, 2100 Eck Hall of Law, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on November 26, 2013.