He began working at UT in the Department of Political Science and retired in 2012. He served as associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and head of the Department of Political Science. He was named the Lindsey Young Professor of Political Science in 1981 and was twice the recipient of the UT Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award. In 1988 he received the L. R. Hesler Award for Excellence in Teaching and Service. In 1994 he was selected as the spring commencement speaker. He was named Alumni Distinguished Service Professor and in 2001 was named UT Macebearer, the university’s highest faculty award. In 2000, he was appointed resident scholar of constitutional law in the College of Law. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters, he authored, coauthored, or edited six books, most significantly American Constitutional Law, now in its sixth edition and a leading textbook in the field. Among his cherished opportunities was that of scholarly inquiry with his esteemed colleagues and former students.
“He was a great scholar of the law, a brilliant teacher and a fantastic colleague,” said John Scheb, professor of political science. “He was beloved by his many students and peers. Otis Stephens was the first member of the UT Political Science faculty I met when I was seeking an interview at UT in the fall of 1981. He treated me so warmly, I knew immediately that I wanted to come to UT. Otis was my mentor, colleague, coauthor and close personal friend. I will miss him terribly, as will so many people at the University of Tennessee and in the wider Knoxville community.”
Stephens was preceded in death by his first wife and mother of his daughters. Linda Duren Stephens, whom he married in 1960, and his second wife, Mary Torpey Stephens. He is survived by a sister, Ann (John) Sims, Atlanta, Georgia; daughters Ann Stephens (Allen) Henderson of Statesboro, Georgia, and Carol Stephens (Kevin) Frazier of Knoxville, Tennessee. He is also survived by seven remarkable grandchildren: Caroline Greer Henderson, Ann Arbor, Michigan; Katherine Lee Henderson, Knoxville, Tennessee; Grace Elizabeth Frazier, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Elizabeth Stephens Henderson, Atlanta, Georgia; Annie Laura Frazier and Charli Monroe Frazier, Knoxville, Tennessee; and William Clark Henderson, Statesboro, Georgia; and numerous nieces and nephews.
A memorial service celebrating Stephen’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, December 9, at Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church, 3700 Keowee Ave SW, with the Rev. Drs. L. Holton Siegling and Daniel Lewis officiating. Family will receive friends before the service, beginning at 10 a.m. and after at a reception where there will be an opportunity to share stories and memories. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Otis Stephens College of Law Endowment at the University of Tennessee 1525 University Avenue Knoxville, TN 37996-0650.