J.D., Harvard Law School, B.A., St. Peter’s College
Joseph M. Lynch, a longtime Princeton resident, died on February 3, 2018 at age 93
in his home at Morris Hall Meadows in Lawrenceville, N.J. after a long career as an
attorney, law professor and legal historian.
Joe was born on Aug. 28, 1924 in Jersey City, N.J., the son of Joseph Lynch and Elizabeth
Coughlin. He spent his childhood in Jersey City, where he attended the St. Nicholas
School and St. Peter’s Preparatory School and spent his spare time reading, playing
baseball and going to movies. In 1942, he enrolled in St. Peter’s College in Jersey
City, but early the following year enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned
to the Signal Corps in Sea Girt, N.J., where he was taught to operate the Army’s message
encoding machine. However, the Army decided that Joe should be assigned to decipher
German messages instead of encoding our own, and he was shipped off to England to
serve in a Army detachment assisting the British in the Ultra project (also known
Joe's duty post outside London exposed him to successive stages of German aerial attacks:
incendiary bombing, V-1 buzz bombs and V-2 rockets. But the location also provided
ready access to London’s varied cultural attractions: museums, concerts at the Royal
Albert Hall, and theater in the West End or the Old Vic Theater. In the waning months
of World War II Joe’s unit was posted to Southern France, awaiting orders for a transfer
to the Philippines that never occurred. Exposure to European culture was a revelation
for Joe. He often described his wartime experience as his real college education.
After the war, Joe returned to Jersey City and finished his undergraduate studies
in English literature while working as a night reporter for The Jersey Journal. He
graduated from St. Peter’s in 1948, and then – thanks to the G.I. Bill® – attended
Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass., from which he graduated in 1951. The following
year Joe married Irene O’Neil, whom he had met while studying at Harvard. They were
married for sixty-two years.
Joe practiced law in Hackensack before moving in 1957 to Princeton, where he spent
much of the remainder of his life. During his early years in Princeton, Joe was strongly
influenced by his friendship with the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, professor
emeritus at Princeton University, whom he met while attending daily mass. Maritain's
views of ethics and justice had a lasting impact on Joe's conception of the role of
law in society and government, which accelerated his decision to begin a career in
In 1961 Joe joined the faculty of the Seton Hall University School of Law, where he
taught civil procedure and constitutional law until his retirement in 1993. He wrote
extensively on the 20th century New Jersey Supreme Court’s expansion of its power
to adopt rules governing practice and procedure in state courts. He also examined
the early development of federal-state relations, where his research focused on Congressional
debates concerning the correct interpretation of various provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
Published in 1999 as Negotiating The Constitution, with editorial assistance from
his wife Irene, this research concluded that the Founding Fathers’ “original intent”
often was to use deliberately ambiguous language that aimed to advance the political
interests of their home states while still ensuring the adoption of constitutional
provisions that were potentially divisive politically. Alexander Hamilton fared better
in this analysis than did James Madison.
In addition to his teaching and research, Joe also served as a charter trustee and
counsel of the Stanley J. Seeger Hellenic Fund. In his role as trustee, he helped
to organize the Stanley J. Seeger '52 Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University
and for many years participated in the Seeger Fund’s annual meetings, which included
cultural and historical tours of the Greek countryside.
Outside of work, Joe very much enjoyed travel (England, France and Italy were particular
favorites), music, opera, theater, good food, the company of good friends, and relaxing
in the summer in northern Vermont. He was an avid fan of the New York Mets and watched
from the stands in Shea Stadium as they beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1986
Joe was predeceased by his wife Irene and his brother John Lynch of Azusa, California.
He is survived by his five children and their spouses: Anne Lynch and Peter Hadekel
of Montreal; Peter Lynch of Franklin; Teresa Lynch of Blawenburg; Mark Lynch of Berwyn,
Pennsylvania, and Patricia Lynch and Trevor Dickie of Cambridge, Mass. He also leaves
his grandchildren, Kathleen, Christine and Tashi Hadekel, Valentine and Rudyard Lynch,
and Nathaniel, Eliza and Rachel Dickie, as well as numerous nieces and nephews in
California, Ohio, Massachusetts and Connecticut.