Former Ann Arbor Mayor James Stephenson dies at 83
James Stephenson, a longtime patent attorney in Ann Arbor, was elected mayor in 1973 and served one term. John Stephenson said his father ran on a platform opposing an ordinance that made possession of marijuana a $5 civil infraction in the city of Ann Arbor.
"He thought the $5 marijuana ordinance made Ann Arbor a laughingstock," John Stephenson said.
Born in Iowa in 1926, Stephenson grew up during the Depression and worked after-school jobs to raise tuition so he could go to engineering school at Iowa State University. He then paid for law school by working as an examiner at the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C. He worked at law firms in Iowa and Michigan before starting a two-man practice in Ann Arbor in 1961. He retired in 2001.
Stephenson became active in the Republican Party in Ann Arbor in the 1960s. John Stephenson said his father was elected a 4th Ward City Council representative in 1968 and became the leader of Republicans on council.
"He was always interested in improving the community around him," John Stephenson said. "He was a great guy. He was a great guy to my mom, to his kids, to his baseball team and to his friends. I don’t know anybody who didn’t treasure their relationship or their association with Jim Stephenson."
Retired Ann Arbor attorney Ed Hood said James Stephenson was highly regarded in his field as a patent attorney and was a strong mayor.
"He always met my definition of a true leader," said Hood, who called Stephenson his mentor. "He could take a group of people, and he made everybody better."
Stephenson was preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Wood Stephenson, who died in 1970 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Stephenson then helped raise millions for medical research to fight the disease, his son said.
He married Barbara King Stephenson in 1971 and she survives him. Sons John Stephenson of Muskegon and Daniel Stephenson of Los Angeles, Calif., also survive. His son David died in 1992 at age 30.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw in Ann Arbor. A family reception will be held at the Ann Arbor City Club, 1830 Washtenaw Ave., following the service. Arrangements are by Generations Funeral and Cremation Services, Ann Arbor.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the ALS Association or Arbor Hospice.