Professor Emeritus Joseph Crea ’47, a Brooklyn Law School icon, Dies at 104


Professor Emeritus Joseph Crea ’47, who taught at Brooklyn Law School for more than 60 years and was a passionate champion of students, faculty, and excellence in legal education, died Aug. 2, 2019, at the age of 104.

“Professor Joseph Crea was a giant in the history of Brooklyn Law School,” said Stuart Subotnick, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. “His life was nothing short of extraordinary, and his impact on the Law School will endure for generations to come. He was a cherished teacher, colleague, and friend. He inspired thousands of our graduates, who learned from him about both the law and life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Professor Crea’s family and friends, as the entire Brooklyn Law School community mourns his passing.”

“There has been no more enthusiastic supporter of Brooklyn Law School, and quite possibly no single person who has shaped its history more, than Professor Joseph Crea,” said Dean Michael T. Cahill. “He was an icon, admired and beloved in equal measure by his students and colleagues, touching countless lives across the entire span of his own life. Joe’s intellect, energy, courage, and selflessness will never be replicated, or forgotten.”

Joseph Crea was born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan on April 26, 1915 and was raised in Brooklyn. His road to his career in law began in the 1930s when, while delivering bread in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, he found a stack of soaking wet law books. He took them home, dried them out, read them, and decided he would one day become a lawyer. He graduated high school early, then attended Brooklyn College at night. Before graduating, he was recruited to work at a selective service agency just before the United States entered World War II; he was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army.

After he completed his service, Crea applied to the Law School in 1944, only to be rejected because he could not commit to attending classes five nights per week. But he convinced Dean Jerome Prince of his work ethic and secured a spot, taking classes out of order or simply reading textbooks instead when he could not make his schedule work.

That winding journey culminated in a job offer in the library from Prince just before Crea finished law school. “I didn’t want to be a librarian, I wanted to be a lawyer,” Crea said in a 1998 Brooklyn Law Notes profile celebrating his 50th teaching anniversary. But he took the job anyway, and a year later he became an instructor, teaching Torts, Legal Research, and Bailments. In the early years of his career, he taught nearly every course in the curriculum.

He became known for his expertise in criminal law, and as one of the Law School’s most enthusiastic and animated professors. His famous catchphrases, including “Never drop your briefcase and run,” are still frequently used by his former students. He taught at the Law School until 2014, and throughout that time he continued to advise faculty members and participate in admissions committee meetings.

Crea also played a major role in modernizing the curriculum at the Law School, helping to raise the Law School’s standing and reputation on a national level. He advised more than a half dozen deans and advocated for better compensation to attract and retain faculty. Dean Joan Wexler once called him a “shadow dean” who always put the interests of the school before his own.

In recognition of his contributions to the Law School community, in 2000 the Joseph Crea Dean chair was established in his name. The Regina and Joseph Crea Memorial Scholarship was established by alumni and friends in memory of Crea’s beloved wife, Regina. The Professor Joseph Crea Reading Room in the Brooklyn Law School Library is named in his honor. He also was honored in 2015 as an Icon of Brooklyn Law School at a gala celebration on Ellis Island.

In 2015, faculty, staff, and friends gathered to celebrate Crea’s 100th birthday, a milestone that garnered national attention, appearing in The New York Times, NPR, The Huffington Post, CBS News, and more. Crea shared his secret to a long career: “Stay well,” he said. “And make sure they don’t want to kick you out.”

When he turned 102 in April 2017, well wishes and stories poured in from hundreds of former students and colleagues around the world. The remembrances were gathered into a book that was presented to Crea by the Law School.

In addition to being a much-beloved teacher, he was the author of A Guide to Legal Research, served on a Mayor’s Committee for the Selection of Marshals, and served as judge advocate for a veterans’ group. He has also been honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award by his alma mater, Brooklyn College.

Crea is survived by his daughters Catharine Crea, Regina Mysliwiec (Ronald), Lorraine Crea, and Elizabeth Crea ’98 (Gloria Greco ’98); three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service to celebrate Professor Crea’s life will be held at the Law School on November 6. Details to follow.

Condolence cards may be sent to:
Catharine Crea
c/o Joanne Tapia
Brooklyn Law School
250 Joralemon St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Gifts in Professor Crea’s memory may be directed to:
The Regina Crea Memorial Scholarship Fund
Office of Advancement
Brooklyn Law School
250 Joralemon St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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