A Cincinnati native, Judge Rupert Doan demonstrated a lifetime commitment to the Cincinnati community by serving more than 30 years on the bench. He earned his JD from the College of Law in 1958. Following law school, he served in the Air Force Judge Advocate Corps at Ellsworth Air Force Base until 1961. Returning to Cincinnati, he worked in private practice until appointed to the Hamilton County Court in 1967. Soon after, he was elected to the Hamilton County Municipal Court. Judge Doan was then elected to the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas in 1976, serving a four-year term. In 1980 he won election to the First District Court of Appeals, where he presided until his death in 2006.
His wife Sue described Judge Doan’s judicial temperament “as strict on civil matters but he had sympathy in criminal matters.” Sincerely believing defendants are innocent until proven guilty, he was always willing to listen. “He really believed that the law was about people: for the people, by the people, all sorts of people,” she recalled. “He liked to say, ‘Everyone is trying to do the best they can.’ He preferred the freedom to exercise discretion rather than sentencing mandates, but he always went with the law. He would point out, ‘we didn’t make the law, we interpret it. If you don’t like it, call the legislature.’”
“Rupert the Red” was A Non-conformist
Son-in-law Dan Spraul ‘82 recalled that Judge Doan appreciated colorful expressions, appreciating “lots of nuts in the ice cream.”
“Dad was a character,” observed Holly. Once, after returning from an errand, she had to tell her father, “Dad, we don’t dance on our coffee table.” He had been dancing on the table with his grandchildren.
This nonconformist nature was evident in his courtroom attire. While sitting on the Municipal Court, he eschewed the traditional black robe and instead wore a red robe. He was sometimes called “Rupert the Red.” He preferred a red robe because his research revealed red robes were historically the standard in the United States until 1715. The black robes first appeared in the U.S. to mourn the 1715 death of Queen Anne. In December 1977, Cincinnati Magazine quoted Doan, “I just felt that two and half centuries of mourning Queen Anne in America was enough, so I went back to the red robe.” Holly describes the red robe as iconic of his personality—‘wild.’
Judge Doan was equally comfortable in work clothes and formal attire. In 1971 Judge Doan purchased a greenhouse operation that specialized in growing roses. He ran the operation for 10 years before selling it. Serving on the bench and running a rose growing operation, Doan appreciated the opportunity to work with people of various backgrounds, from manual laborers to law clerks. “When he recalled meeting a new law clerk he spoke not just of their grades, but of where they grew up, who there parents were, what made them unique,” Sue noted. “He appreciated characters, people with interesting stories.”
“Dad was also an unwitting recycler,” Holly commented. He enjoyed working with his hands, especially refinishing old furniture with his daughter. He loved to reclaim furniture that neighbors had put to the curb. When Holly moved to Clifton to attend the College of Law, her father was excited by the prospect of another neighborhood to explore for furniture to restore. Holly laughs when she recalls the image of her father, “a Court of Appeals judge in a suit picking through discarded furniture on his lunch break.”
A Scholarship Beats a Gravestone
In memory of his remarkable passion for people, his strong commitment to the law, and his deep appreciation of ‘characters,’ the family of Judge Rupert Doan has established a memorial scholarship.
“Rupert’s death was quite sudden, so when asked about a memorial we were unsure what to say,” said Sue.
“We hadn’t given any thought to a memorial,” recalled Holly. “But by the next day, after reflecting on Dad’s life, we realized a scholarship would please him the most. It will have a lasting effect on what he cared about—people, the law, and characters. We choose a scholarship specifically because it supports a person.”
“We worked with the College of Law’s development office to initiate the scholarship,” explained Holy. “They diligently helped us establish a scholarship that faithfully honored Dad’s legacy.”
“Dad was always interested in young people,” recalled Holly.
“And the law,” Sue added.
Holly described the scholarship criteria: “It is intended for ‘characters’ who distinguish themselves. Because of Dad’s interest in characters—interesting people—the scholarship is not limited to 4.0 students. We hope it will acknowledge and encourage law students who offer more than just good grades. Dad believed that students should go to school in the city in which they want to practice. This scholarship helps ensure that characters, the sort of people Dad appreciated, will attend the College of Law and continue to practice in the Cincinnati community. And it beats a gravestone!” she quipped.
‘Everyone is trying to do the best they can.’ Judge Rupert Doan
‘We didn’t make the law, we interpret it. If you don’t like it, call the legislature.’ Judge Rupert Doan
“We choose a scholarship specifically because it supports a person.” Holly Doan Spraul ‘88