Robert R. Pennington, 1927-2008

March 27, 2008

Bob Pennington was a renowned professor of law who broke new ground in his field while priding himself on never missing a lecture.

Professor Pennington, who has died at the age of 80, taught commercial law at his alma mater, the University of Birmingham, from 1968 until his retirement in 1994.

So distinguished was he in his field that on one occasion recalled by his former colleagues, a group of Japanese lawyers visited his office, hoping to photograph him at work.

His expertise was established by a groundbreaking text, Companies in the Common Market, published in 1962.

He was a special adviser to the European Commission from 1973 to 1979, and helped to design the European Community's programme for harmonising company law.

Although his career in law began as a solicitor in 1950, his first academic appointment was as a senior lecturer at the Law Society's School of Law (later the College of Law).

In 1962, he returned to the University of Birmingham, where he had studied as an undergraduate from 1943 to 1946. His celebrated works, including The Principles of Company Law (1959), brought him fame among law students far beyond Birmingham.

Although he was born in the Black Country, he had a lifelong love of Cornwall, and his support for a group of Cornish miners who used ancient Stannary Laws to claim tax exemption in the 1970s prompted one angry MP to describe him in Parliament as one of the most dangerous men in England.

In another colourful episode, he was caught up in an armed robbery during a visit to his bank, and had a gun pointed at his head. Knowledgeable about military history, Professor Pennington is reported to have examined the firearm before declaring that it was certainly a fake, prompting the robber to flee. He is said to have then excused himself from the scene, keen not to miss a lecture he was due to give, and spoke to the police only after his duty to his students had been fulfilled.

From 1978 to 1979 he was director of legal studies at Birmingham, and from 1979 to 1982 he was dean of the faculty of law.

He was also a prolific postgraduate supervisor, and is said to have been "revered" by his students.

He retired in 1994, but he continued to write law articles for many years, and saw the publication of the 8th edition of The Principles of Company Law in 2001.

Professor Pennington died on 12 February following a fall. He is survived by his wife, Pat, and their daughter, Elizabeth.

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