For John Smagula, every once in a while a student comes along who truly inspires him.
Conor Devlin was one of those students to Smagula, the director of the China Rule of Law Program based in Beijing.
Devlin, a 2017 Beasley School of Law alumnus, died on Oct. 27 at the age of 25 of unknown causes, the Inquirer reported.
Smagula and Devlin would often talk over meals or when crossing paths at Tsinghua University in Beijing, where the China Rule of Law Program is based. They discussed Devlin’s passion for the Chinese language, his drive to succeed at the university and his eagerness to practice law in China, Smagula wrote in an email.
“I will sorely miss these conversations, as I was eager to follow his career path,” Smagula added. “The China market is challenging, and few can make sense of it, but I thought Conor would become one of them.”
Devlin graduated in May 2017 and also earned a Chinese law degree in 2016 in a partnership between the law school and Tsinghua University.
Found unresponsive by a relative in his apartment in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, Devlin’s cause of death is still being determined by the Delaware County Medical Examiner, the Inquirer reported.
Devlin was loved by many at Temple, including his tight-knit group of friends from the law school and professors in the abroad program for which he worked.
Jency Mathew met Devlin during their law school orientation in 2014, quickly forming a friend group with other first-year law students Kara Heininger and Christian Elliott.
“The four of us became good friends throughout law school, just hanging out on weekends,” Mathew said.
Staying close in their first year of school, Mathew and Heininger threw Devlin a going-away party before he spent a year at Tsinghua University.
“When he came back for his third year, Conor was such a good friend that our friendship just picked up where it left off,” Mathew said.
Mathew will remember Devlin most for his witty remarks that were always “brilliant,” she said.
“I don’t know if anyone who wasn’t really good friends with him would describe him as a class-clown type,” she added. “But the people that did know him really well, he was hysterical.”
Despite being well-traveled, Devlin was very modest, Heininger said.
“He’s seen a lot, done a lot, but never bragged about it,” she said. “You wouldn’t know until you got into a personal conversation with him, he was just very modest but incredibly smart.”
“He was one of those people that would constantly surprise you,” she added. “He was pretty quiet, but as soon as you talked to him, you found out…he had really amazing life experiences.”
Devlin, Heininger, Mathew and Elliott had all stayed in contact after they graduated in May.
But at the end of the day, Devlin loved his family and being a good uncle to his nieces and nephews, Heininger said.
“He was always looking forward to hanging out with them and doing everything he could to be a good uncle,” she added.
Devlin was a member of student organizations like International Law Society, Business Law Society and the Brehon Law Society for Irish law professionals.
Louis Thompson, the assistant dean for the graduate and international programs in the Beasley School of Law, wrote that the Temple Law community “joins with Conor’s family in mourning his loss,” in a statement.
“He was a remarkable young man and had much to offer our profession,” the statement read. “He will be greatly missed.”
During his time at Temple, Devlin worked at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office in Norristown, Pennsylvania, as a legal intern. He also interned internationally at two Chinese law firms in Beijing and Shandong, China, according to his LinkedIn page.
“Conor had a promising future,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele told the Inquirer. “To see him die so young is very sad, and my heart goes out the family.”
Devlin’s family asks that memorial donations be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital at 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, Tennessee 38105.