Robert Newman Covington

Robert CovingtonRobert Newman Covington, 84, died peacefully at home on November 29, 2020. Born in Evansville, Indiana, but raised largely in Paris, Tennessee, he was the son of Roberta Newman Covington and George Milburn Covington. He earned his undergraduate degree at Yale University in 1958 before receiving a J.D. at Vanderbilt Law School in 1961.

Immediately after earning his degree he was offered a position with the Vanderbilt law faculty. His specialty was labor and employment law; he also taught insurance, sports and entertainment law over his distinguished 46-year career at Vanderbilt. During that time, he accepted visiting appointments at Michigan, Texas, and UC Davis. In addition to his recognized expertise in labor law, he also published books and articles on evidence, insurance, legal method and legal education. He served as Chair of The Labor Law Group. After assuming emeritus status, Bob continued to arbitrate, publish and author several legal books and reports.

Covington’s university service included chairing the faculty senate, serving as president of the University Club, and as president of Vanderbilt’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “We are so grateful for Bob’s nearly half-century of teaching, scholarship and service at the law school and university,” Dean Guthrie said.

Faculty colleagues recall Covington’s deep commitment to the law school and university and his dedication to teaching. Generations of his students experienced him as a dedicated teacher and mentor, both in and outside of the classroom. In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the university, Covington received Vanderbilt’s Thomas Jefferson Award in 1992. When the law school was expanded and renovated in the early 2000s, a classroom, the Covington Room, was named in his honor.

In his early years at Vanderbilt, Covington organized and led a faculty-student Dixieland band that entertained at law school functions and produced a vinyl record. He also founded the Headnotes, an acapella choir of students and faculty that performed at law school functions for more than two decades. For many years, the Headnotes under Covington’s leadership would sing the National Anthem before the crowds at Vanderbilt basketball games, often televised to a national audience. Colleagues cited Bob’s accomplished voice, sense of humor, bottomless generosity, and calmness under performance pressure as contributing greatly to the group’s success and fun-loving atmosphere. Over the years he also sang in the St George’s Episcopal Church Choir and the Blair Community Chorus and played piano in a local big band and jazz group. Friends recall fondly his rich baritone voice, his keyboard wizardry on the piano and his expansive repertoire, from classical to pop to Cole Porter. Bob will always be remembered for his graciousness in sharing his many talents, his warmth and kindness to others, and his understated humor.

Bob also served on a number of boards in the community and helped make the case for the creation of Woodmont Park and other neighborhood protections in defense of our quality of life.

Covington is survived by his wife, Paula Hattox Covington, Librarian for Latin American and Iberian Studies and a senior lecturer in Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University, and his brother, George Milburn Covington, Jr.

A small family memorial service will be held at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Dec. 11, which will be streamed on the church’s website starting at 11 a.m. CST

Donations in his memory can be made to the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee “Covington Quality of Life Fund,” which supports the Nashville symphony, opera, ballet and the Frist Art Museum; to Vanderbilt Law School; or to a charity of the donor’s choice.