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Court Mourns the Loss of Judge Robert F. Chapman

April 26, 2018
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The Honorable Robert F. Chapman passed away in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on April 18, 2018, at the age of 91.  “The Fourth Circuit Court family is saddened to learn of the loss of Judge Chapman.  Many of us remember fondly his great service to the Court” said Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory.

Judge Chapman was born in Inman, South Carolina on April 24, 1926. He attended public schools in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and entered a naval officer training program (V-12) at Emory and Henry College in Virginia in 1943 before transferring to the naval ROTC at the University of South Carolina, graduating in 1945.  He was commissioned as an Ensign with the U.S. Navy, serving in Guam, where he commanded the ship YW-92 at the age of 19.  He later attended the Crossroads Operation where atomic bombs were tested after the war.

Upon his return to South Carolina in 1946, he attended the University of South Carolina Law School, earning membership in the Order of the Coif honor society.  He entered private practice following graduation until being recalled to active duty in the U.S. Navy in 1951. From 1952-1953, he served as a Lieutenant on the staff of the Commander Naval Forces, Marianas Islands, before returning to private law practice until his appointment as a federal judge.

He was nominated by President Richard M. Nixon on May 18, 1971, to a new seat authorized on the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, and was confirmed by the Senate on May 26, 1971.  President Ronald Reagan nominated him on July 16, 1981, to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit formerly held by Clement Furman Haynsworth, Jr. Judge Chapman was confirmed by the Senate on September 16, 1981.  He assumed senior status on May 31, 1991.

Judge Chapman received the Order of the Palmetto in 1978, the State of South Carolina’s highest civilian honor given to citizens of the state to recognize extraordinary lifetime service and achievements of national or statewide significance.  In 1985, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s National Patriot Award, the highest award the Society can bestow to an individual.  He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of South Carolina in 1986, and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from the College of Charleston in 2000.  He was a fellow with the American College of Trial Lawyers.

As Circuit Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III recalls,

“Bob Chapman had as much common sense as any judge I have known. He was the first judge on the bench to puncture pomposity and the first to remind counsel that courts were not in the “fix-it” business.

He was a South Carolinian to the core and exemplified the grace, character, and generosity of his native state and region.

He called ‘em as he saw ‘em. His judging was straight and true. He played no favorites. He was unmoved by flattery and impervious to applause.

In short, he was the colleague all of us appreciated, and a man whom bench and bar held in the highest respect. As a golfer, he was legendary. As a soldier, practitioner, judge, husband, and father he displayed deep patriotism, unfailing kindness, and steadfast loyalties that made us, one and all, proud to call him friend.”


“Judge Chapman was a great asset and contributor to the Court for many years.  We will miss him terribly” said Senior Circuit Judge Clyde H. Hamilton.

The obituary for Judge Chapman is available here.  (Spartanburg Herald-Journal, 4/25/18)