Mercer Grieves the Loss of University Icon and Life Trustee Robert L. Steed


MACON – Distinguished Alumnus Robert L. Steed, who served as the University's seventh Life Trustee and was a tireless champion for Mercer, died at his Buckhead home on June 4.

“Bob Steed was one of Mercer's most loyal sons,” said President William D. Underwood. “His affinity for the University had no limit, and he served it faithfully for most of his life. Indeed, he was one of our greatest ambassadors. Bob was greatly beloved, and we will miss his wit, wisdom, warm personality, and constant advocacy for his cherished alma mater.”

Steed, who received virtually every award and honor that the University can bestow, was a part of the Mercer family since 1954. As he tells the story:

“It was in that year my father in Bowdon, Georgia, dangerously close to Alabama, put me on a southbound Greyhound for Mercer with nothing more than a shoe box of fried chicken, two Milky Ways, a rubber sheet… I was only 17… $1.50 in change and a lapel sign reading, 'Put this boy out in Macon.' As I was getting on the bus, he took me aside and put his rough, callous hands on my shoulder and uttered the only advice that he had given me in my life. He said, 'Try to get a seat by the window on the bus,' and then he said, 'And don't let those people at Mercer make you room with anybody that wears those Jockey shorts.' I've never fully understood what he meant by that but it's been a code I have always tried to live by.”

Steed, a senior partner with King & Spalding's Public Finance Practice Group, served as bond counsel to the State of Georgia and to cities, counties and governmental authorities throughout the state and the Southeast.

He was a noted humorist and author. His humor columns appeared for many years in The Atlanta Constitution and in papers of the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. Mercer University Press published several of his books, including Willard Lives!, 1981; Lucid Intervals, 1983; Money, Power and Sex (A Self-Help Guide for All Ages), 1985; The Sass Menagerie, 1988; Mail Fraud, The Laughable Letters of Robert L. Steed, 1991; and A Ship Without an Udder, 1995. Steed's commentaries could occasionally be heard on National Public Radio's “All Things Considered.”

While a student, he served as editor of The Mercer Cluster and wrote the paper's popular column “Willard Lives.” Steed graduated from Mercer in 1958 and earned his law degree from Mercer's Walter F. George School of Law. In 1961-1962, Steed served as law clerk to Justice Carlton Mobley on the Supreme Court of Georgia. He joined King & Spalding in 1962 and became a partner in 1967.

Steed provided extensive leadership to his alma mater. In addition to serving six terms as a member of the Board of Trustees, including chairing the board for several years, he was a member of the board of the Walter F. George Trust, chair of the Mercer School of Law Board of Visitors and president of the Law Alumni Association. He served as the popular master of ceremonies for the Mercer University Press Authors' Luncheon for many years, an event that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Press.

“There will never be another Bob Steed,” said Richard A. “Doc” Schneider, current trustee, former board chair and longtime law firm colleague. “But what was most special about Bob was how he used the fact that everyone loved him. He championed various causes from starving artists to budding lawyers to his cherished Mercer and King & Spalding and lobbied for them in a way no one could resist. He was the ultimate ambassador – our own Mr. Wolf. If you were in trouble or needed a helping hand, there was no one better than Bob Steed. In Bob Steed, we had a friend. And winter, spring, summer and fall, we will miss him.”

Among his many honors, he was a recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Mercer Law School and the Journalistic Achievement Award and Honor Award from the Council of Authors and Journalists. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from Mercer in 1979.

“Bob Steed is practically the definition of Mercer,” said Mercer trustee Gene Gabbard, who served several terms on the board with Steed. “I really enjoyed Bob and Judge (Griffin) Bell's jesting with him. I will never forget when Judge Bell said to me, 'Bob has written more books than he has read!'”

Steed also provided exemplary leadership while serving as executive vice chair of the Mercer 2000: Advancing the Vision Campaign.

Mercer Chancellor and former President Dr. R. Kirby Godsey added, “Bob Steed was the definition of a Master Mercerian. Throughout my years at Mercer, Bob was by my side as a trustee, a counselor, a devoted friend. He listened. He encouraged. He challenged. And always, he supported the progress of his alma mater. He was a self-anointed evangelist for Mercer's good work. So, whether speaking after dinner or gerrymandering support for Mercer at King & Spalding, Bob was persistently holding high the flag of Mercer.

“We feel the weight of his leaving us. Even so, we will not be consumed by the cry of absence. In the wake of his spirit, we will meet every new dawn with the gift of his presence,” Dr. Godsey said.

Steed is survived by his wife, Lu; three children – Josh Steed, Nona Bickers and Georgia Vance; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 14 at Northside Drive United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

Memorial gifts can be made payable to Mercer University, 1501 Mercer University Drive, Macon, Georgia 31207. Note the Steed Scholarship in the memo line of the check.