Judge George Leighton, a member of the University of Notre Dame Board of Trustees, died June 6 in Brockton, Massachusetts. He was 105.
Elected to the Board in 1979, Leighton became an Emeritus Trustee in 1983. He also served for six years on Harvard University’s Board of Overseers.
A high school dropout, Leighton talked his way into Howard University, where he excelled to such a degree that he was admitted to Harvard Law School. He left Harvard to serve for four years in the U.S. Army during World War II. He returned to earn his law degree in 1946.
Leighton worked for 18 years as a defense attorney in Chicago, handling several high-profile civil rights cases. His judicial career began in 1964, when he was appointed to the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, and in 1969 he became the first African-American appointed to the Illinois Appellate Court. He was named to the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois in 1976, became a senior judge in 1986 and retired from the bench a year later.
Leighton continued to practice law with the Chicago firm Neal & Leroy until age 99. In 2012 the main criminal courthouse in Cook County was renamed the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building. He was a life member of the NAACP and served the Chicago chapter as president and general counsel.
Leighton is survived by two adult daughters, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His wife of nearly 50 years, Virginia, died in 1992. Arrangements are pending.