A Family Affair: Bilby Family Continues Father’s Legacy through University of Arizona Law Scholarship

June 17, 2022

In 1991, Judge Richard M. Bilby unknowingly began a family tradition. An alumnus of the University of Arizona, Bilby established the Ralph Bilby Memorial Scholarship at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in honor of his father who had graduated with the first JD class in 1920. Years later, Richard Bilby’s daughter Claire Bilby would go on to dedicate a scholarship to her father, a fitting tribute to the man she calls her “first mentor.” 

He always gave back to the community, and this scholarship is one way for me to continue his legacy,” said Claire Bilby. 

Born and raised in Tucson, Richard Bilby graduated from the University of Arizona with his bachelor's in 1955. He then went on to law school at the University of Michigan, followed by a career in private practice before he was appointed as a Federal District Court Judge in the District of Arizona, where he served from 1979 until he went on to senior status in 1996. He passed away a few years later in 1998. 

Noted for his innovative and often unconventional leadership style, Richard Bilby pushed for the court to adopt new technologies and he was regularly seen not wearing his robe in the courtroom as he wanted to make people feel more comfortable.  

“He felt everyone should have a chance to do what they wanted to do in life,” said Claire Bilby who graduated from University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in business in 2017, and currently serves as Senior Vice President of Emerging Business for Disney Signature Experiences. He loved to fight for the underdog! For those that weren’t given an opportunity, he had a passion to try and help them out.” 

Strong Commitment to University of Arizona 

With the goal of honoring his own father and helping students obtain a legal education, Richard Bilby created the Ralph Bilby Memorial Scholarship in 1991.  

After a career in private practice, Ralph Bilby became an assistant to the U.S. Attorney followed by a partnership of over 50 years with 1933 Arizona Law graduate, Ted K. Shoenhair. After 66 years in the legal profession, Ralph Bilby retired in 1986 before his passing in 1987.  

The Ralph W. Bilby professorship was later set up by Ethel Bilby, Ralph Bilby’s wife, which is currently held by Arizona Law Dean Marc Miller. 

“My grandfather had very strong commitment to University of Arizona and Tucson as his home,” said Claire Bilby. “He would be so proud that we continue to give to the school that he graduated from.” 

Motivation to Give Back 

My father had high integrity, fought for what was right, believed in getting what you deserve but also believed everyone deserves a fair shot and did his best to give it to them,” said Claire Bilby. “My hope is the scholarship helps students to pursue their passion for the legal profession that may not of been able to do it on its own.”  

The first Richard M. Bilby Scholar was awarded to rising second-year Arizona Law student Aram Arutyunyan during the 2021-2022 academic year. Arutyunyan, a first-generation Armenian American, and a fourth-generation genocide survivor, wants to represent the world’s most marginalized groups with a legal career in human rights. 

When discussing the Richard M. Bilby scholarship’s impact, Arutyunyan said, “In a word, it motivated me to someday be able to give back the way my donor gave to me.”