A pioneer in the field of aviation law and a graduate of the College of Wooster, Case Western Reserve University Law School, and Columbia University Law School, H. Alberta Bert Colclaser died Wednesday, July 7, 2010, in Wooster, Ohio. She was ninety-nine years old and had resided in Wooster for more than thirty-five years.
Ms. Colclaser was born February 19, 1911, in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Levi A. Lee Colclaser and Bertha Margaret Lear Colclaser, who died when her daughter was only eight years old. As Ms. Colclaser later recalled in an oral history of women graduates of Columbia Law School, The day I was born, it was decided that I would go to college…. I remember at one time my father’s older brother said to him, ‘Why are you going to waste your money sending [Alberta] to college? She will just get married and have a family.’ My father said, ‘I don’t care if she gets married the day after she graduates from college, she will still have something to enrich her life.’
Following her graduation in 1933 from the College of Wooster, Ms. Colclaser worked briefly as an editor for a publishing company before enrolling in Case Western Reserve University Law School, where she was one of just three women in a class of seventy-five students. She earned her JD in 1936 and then headed east to Columbia University Law School to pursue her dream of studying both international and aviation law, a specialty she essentially created during the three years she spent there. Ms. Colclaser received her LLM in 1939 and considered working for Pan American Airways, then the preeminent US-based international carrier. But a Pan Am vice-president with who whom she spoke encouraged her to get about three years of experience in the government first, then reapply for the Pan Am position she wanted. What he didn’t count on, Ms. Colclaser later noted, was that when I went to Washington and got three years experience in the government, I had reached the conclusion that what I was doing [at the State Department] was more important to US international aviation…than anything I would do for one individual airline.
Ms. Colclaser ended up spending thirty-four years with the US Department of State and the US Foreign Service. First in Washington and then in subsequent posts at the embassies in Paris, France, and Ottawa, Canada, she helped craft a post-World War II template for aviation and international law and policy that is still used today.
Following her retirement from government service, Ms. Colclaser served the College of Wooster for five years as the executive assistant to the president and secretary of the college.
Ms. Colclaser was the recipient of the Department of State Superior Service Award in 1966 and the Distinguished Alumni Award of the College of Wooster in 1983. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Society of Benchers of Western Reserve University Law School, and the Wayne County (Ohio) Bar Association.
Ms. Colclaser’s survivors include a cousin, Margaret M. Gillan of Northville, Michigan, as well as Mrs. Gillan’s children and their families, Deborah Gillan Straub and Robert Straub (Alexandra and Dayna) of Lowell, Michigan, and John and Colleen Gillan (Nicole, Melanie, and Ian) of Marion, North Carolina.
A memorial service for Ms. Colclaser is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Friday, July 9, 2010, at First Presbyterian Church in Wooster. Burial will take place at Unity Cemetery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions to the Department of Political Science at the College of Wooster or the Law School at Case Western Reserve University would be appreciated.
Political Science Department at the College of Wooster or the Law School at Case Western Reserve University
Memorial Service on Friday, July 9, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church in Wooster
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