Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Vincent M. Nathan (1937-2017)

UT professor was known for prison reform work


Vincent M. Nathan, a lawyer, law professor, and nationally renowned expert in prisons and corrections reform, died Wednesday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. He was 79.

He had bone cancer and had developed complications, his family said.



Federal judges over the decades named Mr. Nathan of Ottawa Hills to make sure court-ordered reforms to correctional systems were carried out. The first was U.S. District Judge Judge Don J. Young, who in 1975 appointed Mr. Nathan to be special master over the Marion Correctional Institute and then over the Lucas County jail.

As Mr. Nathan’s reputation grew, he was appointed to oversee major reform to the Texas prison system and corrections facilities in Georgia, New Mexico, and Puerto Rico.

“Vince was remarkable,” said Paul Belazis, a Toledo-area lawyer whom Mr. Nathan asked to join his team in Texas.

“There’s no one I’ve ever seen who could sit in a room with the governor, members of the governor’s cabinet, some of the smartest lawyers in the state, and take control of the room and move it in the direction he thought it needed to go,” said Mr. Belazis, a law student of Mr. Nathan’s at the University of Toledo and later a member of his firm. “Vince had a clarity of thought and a strong sense of purpose and direction.”

After retiring from his law firm, Mr. Nathan in the early 2000s became a visiting faculty member and lecturer for about a decade in the UT criminal justice department, at the invitation of Lois Ventura, who met him in the mid-1970s after being hired to initiate treatment programs at the county jail.

“He was an intimidating presence,” Ms. Ventura recalled of their first lunch.

“It was like being around a force of nature. He was a dynamo,” said Ms. Ventura, who retired in June as head of the criminal justice department. “I admired him tremendously, and we formed a bond and worked together to improve conditions.”

His specialty was commercial law and contracts when he taught at the UT law college from 1963-79. He also was an associate dean.

Born Nov. 14, 1937, in Tyler, Texas, Mr. Nathan grew up in Dallas and was a graduate of Highland Park High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Oklahoma, where he met his wife.

“One of the things that impressed me so much, keeping in mind that when we met we were 17 and 18: He read poetry to me,” his wife said.

He also obtained his law degree from the University of Oklahoma, and was a teaching associate at the University of Indiana law school before he came to UT.

He was regarded as a mentor by onetime students and colleagues, but also by his children’s friends from their youth. His wife said he liked to take proteges out to savor good food and drink.

“He opened doors for people,” Ms. Ventura said.

He was a former president of the northwest Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a former officer of the state ACLU.

Surviving are his wife, Beverly, whom he married April 1, 1959; son, Dan Nathan; daughter, Nancy Jacobson, and four grandchildren.

Funeral services will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Robert H. Wick/​Wisniewski Funeral Home.

Contact Mark Zaborney at or 419-724-6182.

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