Friend of College Attorney Ralph Knowles, 71, Dies

Ralph Knowles

Attorney Ralph Knowles (on right), 71, died Tuesday after a battle with brain cancer. Knowles, a partner at Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles, was a litigator known for being a passionate champion of justice and equality. He is pictured with his wife and dean emerita Marjorie Knowles, and Dean Steven J. Kaminshine.

Attorney Ralph Knowles, 71, died May 17 after a battle with brain cancer. Knowles, a partner at Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles, was a litigator known for being a passionate champion of justice and equality.

“The legal community has lost a giant,” said Mary Radford, professor of law.

He and wife Marjorie, professor of law and dean emerita, have been major supporters of the college for many years. The College’s lower level, the Marjorie and Ralph Knowles Conference Center, is named in their honor.

Marjorie Knowles brought many gifts to the College of Law and chief among them was the opportunity for all of us to get to know Ralph,” Radford said. “He was a powerful litigator while at the same time extraordinarily humble and kind. Ralph was driven to achieve just results, whether for the poor or the rich, for those who had committed crimes or for those who were innocent victims of the ineptitude or negligence of others.”

Knowles received his J.D. in 1969 from the University of Alabama School of Law. He joined Doffermyre Shields Canfield Knowles & Devine in 1991. His early career years included serving as associate director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., and a staff attorney with the Selma Inter-Religious Project.

Knowles’ career included a number cases that resulted in landmark constitutional decisions on behalf of prisoners, mental health patients, and more. He served as the co-chair of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the breast implant litigation and was on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the latex glove litigation.

“Our firm has lost its heart and soul,” his firm announced on May 17. “Over his remarkable career — from the mid-60s when as student body president at the University of Alabama he clashed with George Wallace to his leadership in later years of some of our nation’s most significant civil cases — Ralph has been one of a kind, a courageous and principled lawyer devoted to doing right who made everyone around him a better person.”

The legal community has lost an esteemed attorney, but those who knew Knowles personally lost a beloved friend and confidante.

“Ralph had a dry sense of humor that he used to gently coax his friends into keeping all of life’s crises in perspective,” Radford said. “He supported Marjorie in her work and extended his strength to many of us when we needed it.

“Ralph and Marjorie kept me sane as I battled the complexities and frustration of representing a death-row inmate,” Radford said. “They made a terrific team. One of their greatest joys seemed to be helping their friends in time of need. By way of solace, Marjorie offered food and Ralph countered with Scotch. They complimented each other beautifully. We have lost a very dear friend and will miss him greatly.”

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