Dwight D. Opperman died last Thursday at his home in Bel Air, Calif., after a short illness. He was 89. Mr. Opperman and his wife, Julie Chrystyn Opperman, have been good friends and generous benefactors of the Law Library of Congress.
He is well known for his work as the former head of West Publishing Company. Mr. Opperman is credited with having the vision and leadership to move the world of legal publishing from print to electronic access through the development of Westlaw, a leading online research tool which is used by the legal community worldwide.
Mr. Opperman was born and raised in Perry, Iowa. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II prior to attending Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. He graduated in 1951 and soon afterward started at West Publishing as an editor, a position he held for 10 years before joining West’s corporate leadership. He rose quickly to become West’s president in 1968 and CEO thereafter (his position when Thomson Reuters acquired the company in 1996).
Mr. Opperman was committed to the rule of law and the legal profession. As a tribute to his dedication to law libraries and the legal profession, his wife Julie Chrystyn Opperman donated two volumes of an extraordinarily rare 1478 edition of the Casus breves of Johannes de Turnhout (c. 1446–1492) at the 15th Wickersham Award Ceremony sponsored by the Friends of the Law Library of Congress. Mr. Opperman was the first recipient of the Wickersham Award which recognizes an individual who exemplifies exceptional public service and dedication to the legal profession.
As David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress remarked, “We are extremely sorry for the loss of Mr. Opperman, a publishing pioneer and true friend of legal institutions. We are grateful for all the Oppermans have done not only for the Library but also for the legal and law library professions.”