Professor emeritus Isaac Abella

Professor emeritus Isaac Abella. (Photography courtesy University of Chicago News Office)

University obituaries

Recent faculty, staff, trustee, and alumni obituaries.

Faculty and staff

Isaac D. Abella, professor emeritus of physics, died October 23 in Chicago. He was 82. A physicist who worked on the early development of lasers, Abella joined the University faculty in 1965. During his tenure at the University he was a visiting researcher at national laboratories around the country and served on the working group that published the K–12 National Science Standards in 1996. An avid teacher and mentor, he won the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Undergraduate Teaching in 1969. For 16 years Abella and his wife were resident masters in Shoreland Hall, hosting pizza parties and organizing trips to the Lyric Opera for students in the residence hall. Abella retired from UChicago in 2011. His wife, Mary Ann Abella, MBA’86, died in 2004. Abella is survived by a daughter, Sarah Abella, LAB’93; a son, Benjamin S. Abella, LAB’88; a sister; a brother; and six grandchildren.

Charles E. Bidwell, LAB’46, AB’50, AM’53, PhD’56, William Claude Reavis Professor Emeritus of Sociology, died November 6 in Chicago. He was 84. A sociologist of education, Bidwell spent two years at Harvard University before joining UChicago in 1961 as an assistant professor. He was chair of the University’s Department of Education for 10 years and later chaired the Department of Sociology. Bidwell’s research centered on the organizational structure of educational institutions and how decisions are made from the classroom to the community level. He was the author of many scholarly works as well as the editor of the American Journal of Sociology and the American Journal of Education. Bidwell enjoyed teaching and mentoring; in his four decades at UChicago he chaired 39 PhD dissertations and served on more than 30 additional committees. He is survived by his son, Charles Bidwell, LAB’82; and two grandchildren.

Felix Browder, mathematics professor emeritus and past chair of the Department of Mathematics, died December 10 in Princeton, NJ. He was 89. Browder was known as a pioneer in nonlinear functional analysis, a field of mathematics with applications in engineering and finance. Browder began his career at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton but struggled to get a faculty appointment because his father was a leader in the Communist Party. With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt he secured a faculty position at Brandeis University in 1955. Browder then taught at Yale before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1963, spending the following two decades on the University’s mathematics faculty, including 11 years as department chair. He became vice president of research at Rutgers University in 1986 and was later president of the American Mathematical Society. In 2000 Browder was awarded the National Medal of Science for his work in nonlinear functional analysis and for being a leader in crossdisciplinary research. He is survived by two sons, Thomas Browder, AB’82, and William Browder, AB’85; two brothers; and five grandchildren.

James A. Davis, senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology and former director of NORC at the University of Chicago, died September 29 in Michigan City, IN. He was 86. A pioneer in the use of quantitative statistical analysis in the social sciences, Davis taught at Harvard, Dartmouth, and the University of Chicago over the course of his career; he was on the University’s sociology faculty from 1957 to 1965 and from 1972 to 1975. He joined NORC in 1957, serving as director from 1971 to 1975. In 1972 NORC launched Davis’s brainchild the General Social Survey, which annually collects data on Americans’ social and political attitudes and behaviors and is still in use today. Davis remained a principal investigator at NORC until 2009, and since 1994 was a senior lecturer and visiting professor at UChicago. He is survived by his wife, Martha; two daughters, including Mary W. Davis, LAB’67; two sons, James M. Davis, LAB’69, and Andrew A. Davis, LAB’74; and 11 grandchildren.

Janellen Huttenlocher, William S. Gray Professor Emeritus in Psychology, died November 20 in Chicago. She was 84. A childhood development researcher who focused on how children acquire language, Huttenlocher taught at Columbia University before joining the UChicago faculty in 1974. Her work explored topics including variances in mathematical thinking among children from different socioeconomic groups and how early exposure to a large vocabulary can spur syntactic growth, and many of her studies challenged the idea that inherited traits dictate how well a child is able to learn. Huttenlocher was known for attracting top students to UChicago and remained active in the psychology department after her retirement in 2009. Her husband, pediatric neurology professor Peter Huttenlocher, died in 2013. She is survived by a daughter, Anna Huttenlocher, LAB’79; two sons, Daniel Huttenlocher, LAB’76, and Carl Huttenlocher, LAB’90; and six grandchildren.

Myrna J. Lane of Charleston, SC, former dean of students at the Graduate School of Business (now Chicago Booth), died January 17, 2016. She was 77. Lane started as a secretary in the business school’s faculty typing pool in 1961, quickly advancing to higher positions. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Lane taught elementary school, working part time and during the summers at the business school, returning full time in 1976. She held a variety of leadership positions, including associate dean of students, associate director of the PhD program, and associate director of the international business exchange program, before serving as dean of students from 1995 to 1998. Active in her community, Lane was involved with the Hyde Park Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company and the local Girl Scouts. She is survived by her husband, Peter A. Piccione, AM’76, PhD’90, formerly an Egyptologist at the Oriental Institute; a daughter, Miriam Swann, LAB’85; two sisters; and two grandchildren.

Jason McVicker, AM’94, a lecturer at the School of Social Service Administration, died October 13 of a heart attack. He was 54. A clinical social worker, McVicker developed programs for clients with HIV/AIDS at Chicago House and Social Service Agency and worked as a psychotherapist for young people at the Fillmore Center for Human Services. He joined SSA in 2005 and taught courses including Social Work with LGBT Clients and Social Intervention: Direct Practice. McVicker also taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University, as well as reviewed operas. He is survived by his husband, Michael Worley, AM’76, PhD’86; his father; and two brothers.


Sidney Hyman, AB’36, AM’38, died October 25 in Chicago. He was 103. A World War II veteran, Hyman was a speechwriter for president John F. Kennedy and a best-selling nonfiction author. He taught jurisprudence at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a senior fellow at the Great Books Foundation, and contributed regularly to publications including the New York Times.


James Russell Robinson, AM’42, died September 20 in Southbury, CT. He was 98. A lifelong civil rights activist, Robinson cofounded the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942 and directed CORE’s New York office. He later worked at the American Committee on Africa and raised funds for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; a daughter, Harriet Robinson Gowanlock, AB’83; a son; and several grandchildren.

Mary L. Austin, AM’43, died October 24 in Oneonta, NY. She was 97. Austin worked as an outreach coordinator for the Girl Scouts of America. She was an active member of her church, the League of Women Voters, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and a local book club, and enjoyed attending arts and music performances. Austin is survived by three daughters, four sons, 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

David R. Krathwohl, SB’43, AM’47, PhD’53, died October 13 in Glen Ellyn, IL. He was 95. A US Army veteran, Krathwohl taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Michigan State University before spending 11 years as dean of the school of education at Syracuse University. The author of several textbooks, he advised the US Department of Education’s research bureau and was active in professional organizations. His wife, Helen Jean (Abney) Krathwohl, EX’44, died in 2012. Krathwohl is survived by two daughters, a son, six grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

James R. McGrath, SB’43, MD’45, of Redmond, WA, died November 15. He was 95. McGrath served in the US Army Medical Corps before joining Bellevue (WA) Clinic in 1950. He later helped establish Overlake Medical Center, where he was the first chief of pediatrics and the first full-time pediatrician in Seattle’s eastern suburbs. He was a longtime member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and held leadership roles at his church. McGrath is survived by two daughters, three sons, and 18 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Alan B. Carter, SB’44, of Fullerton, CA, died November 5. He was 93. Carter served as a meteorologist with the US Air Force in Italy during World War II. He later taught math and computer science at Fullerton Community College, retiring in 1982. He is survived by his wife, Alta.

Shirley Ann (Petersen) Durrant, PhB’46, of Medina, OH, died October 17. She was 93. Durrant was an airline stewardess and later an elementary school teacher. She took early retirement in 1976 so she could travel and play golf with her husband. Durrant is survived by a daughter, a son, and six grandchildren. 

Hilma Bernice Cohn Levy, AM’47, of Dallas, died October 18. She was 98. A medical social worker, Levy worked at hospitals in Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Dallas. In the 1980s she transitioned into market research in the food and real estate industries. She is survived by her husband, Walter J. Levy, AM’45; three daughters, including Deborah L. Levy, AB’72, PhD’76; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Ralph S. Saul, AB’47, died October 4 in Gladwyne, PA. He was 94. Saul held leadership positions at the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the American Stock Exchange before becoming CEO of the Insurance Company of North America in 1975. He oversaw the company’s 1982 merger with Connecticut General to become Cigna Corp. and served on Cigna’s board until 1989. He is survived by a daughter, a son, and four grandchildren.

Norma Gay Sperry, SM’47, of Haverford, PA, died November 5. She was 93. Sperry was a medical researcher working on a typhoid vaccine before moving with her husband, Roger W. Sperry, PhD’41, to California. There she was a counselor at the Pasadena Mental Health Center for 25 years and a two-time president of the Caltech Women’s Club. Sperry’s husband died in 1994, and she is survived by a son.

Robert Blauner, AB’48, AM’50, died October 20 in Berkeley, CA. He was 87. Blauner joined the sociology faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963, becoming a full professor in 1978. An expert on race relations, he wrote extensively on structural bias and started an affirmative action program in his department. Blauner retired in 1993 with emeritus status. He is survived by his wife, Karina Epperlein; two children; and two grandchildren.

David E. Botwin, PhB’48, died November 21 in Pittsburgh. He was 90. A US Army veteran, Botwin worked at the US Department of Veterans Affairs and later taught the psychology of education at the University of Pittsburgh, retiring in 1999. He was interested in classical music and human rights issues, and was an Ohio State Buckeyes fan. He is survived by a sister.

Hillel M. Black, AB’49, AM’52, of New York City, died February 8, 2016. He was 86. Black spent his career in book publishing, serving as editor in chief of William Morrow, publisher at Macmillan, and executive editor of Sourcebooks. He retired from Sourcebooks in 2009, continuing to work as a freelance editor for six years. He is survived by a daughter, two sons, and three grandsons.


Wayne Henry Akeson, MD’53, died October 15 in La Jolla, CA. He was 88. An orthopedic surgeon known for his joint injury and spine trauma research, Akeson was on the medical faculty at the University of North Carolina and the University of Washington before serving as chief of the orthopedic surgery department of the University of California, San Diego, from 1970 to 1996. A US Army veteran, Akeson spent the last part of his career providing care at the local Veterans Affairs hospital, retiring in 2008. He is survived by two daughters; three sons; and nine grandchildren, including Tyler M. Mansfield, MBA’13.

Daniel U. Levine, AB’54, AM’59, PhD’63, of Omaha, NE, died October 15. He was 81. A US Army veteran, Levine taught education administration at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, for 28 years. He then joined the faculty at the University of Nebraska–Omaha, where he helped develop the first doctoral program in education. An expert on urban pedagogy, Levine was the coauthor of Foundations of Education, now in its 13th edition. He is survived by his wife, Rayna Freeman Levine, AB’60; a daughter; a son; two sisters; and two granddaughters.

Joseph J. Rotman, AB’54, SM’56, PhD’59, died October 16 in Urbana, IL. He was 82. Rotman was a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois from 1959 to 2004. The author of 10 math textbooks, he focused his research on areas of algebra including abelian groups and combinatorics. Rotman was politically active and enjoyed watching Illini basketball and traveling. He is survived by his wife, Marganit; a daughter; a son; and a sister, Margolith Rotman, AB’50.

Jeanne “Sybil” Wallman Holtzer, PhD’55, of Philadelphia, died October 21. She was 90. Holtzer spent her career as a medical researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, working with laboratories and research centers around the world. Her husband and collaborator, Howard Holtzer, SB’47, PhD’52, died in 2014. She is survived by her sister, Eleanor “Beryl” Wallman Bennewith, AB’59.

James Allen Roberts, SB’56, MD’59, died November 12 in Hendersonville, NC. He was 82. Roberts served as a Navy physician before founding his clinical urology practice. He was on the faculty of Tulane University for more than 30 years and authored more than 150 papers and 30 book chapters. Roberts enjoyed reading, photography, and going to museums and theater performances. He is survived by his wife, Hilda; a daughter; a son, Thomas J. Roberts, AB’88; a stepdaughter; three stepsons; and 14 grandchildren.

Henry Thomas James, PhD’58, died September 30 in Golden Valley, MN. He was 101. A World War II veteran, James joined Stanford University’s education faculty in 1958. He served as dean of the school of education from 1966 to 1970 and was known for promoting interdisciplinary research. Later he was president of the education-focused Spencer Foundation, retiring in 1985. He is survived by four daughters, two sons, 17 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren.

Richard L. Purtill, AB’58, AM’60, PhD’65, died December 4 in Bellingham, WA. He was 85. A US Army veteran, Purtill was a longtime philosophy professor at Western Washington University. He wrote philosophy textbooks as well as science fiction and fantasy novels. Purtill is survived by his wife, Betty; three sons; and a brother.

Norman J. Bakall, AM’59, of Chicago, died November 16. He was 81. Bakall taught history at Taft High School, later becoming the school’s assistant principal and school programmer. He enjoyed golf, tennis, bridge, travel, reading, and music. Bakall is survived by his wife, Elissa; a daughter; a son; and five grandchildren.


William Corwin Allen, MD’60, died September 12 in Columbia, MO. He was 81. An orthopedic surgeon, Allen served in the US Army Medical Corps before joining the University of Florida faculty in 1965. In 1976 he became orthopedic surgery chief at the University of Missouri, retiring in 2001. He is survived by his wife, Kathryn E. Allen, AB’59; a daughter; two sons; a brother; and two grandchildren.

Guinevere L. Griest, AM’47, PhD’61, died September 14 in Alexandria, VA. She was 92. Griest joined the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1968. She directed the fellowships and seminars division and later the research programs division, and was one of the architects of the flagship NEH Fellowship program. Griest retired in 1995 and enjoyed gardening and traveling. She is survived by a sister, Jeanne Griest, MBA’47.

Julie Rogers Wallace, AB’62, of Chicago, died December 22, 2015. She was 75. Wallace taught French and the humanities at public and private schools in Winnetka, IL, and on Chicago’s South Side. An artist, she designed displays at Marshall Field’s department store, and was active in civil rights work with the Woodlawn Organization and Model Cities. She is survived by two daughters, Mary Wallace, LAB’81, and Beth Wallace, LAB’83; a son, Ian Huntley Wallace, LAB’84, AB’89; and three sisters.

Barbara E. (Unger) Williamson, AB’62, AM’65, of Indianapolis, died October 8. She was 74. Williamson taught high school French before joining the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, where she served as executive director in the 1970s. She later worked for the US Attorney’s Office and at a federal courthouse. Williamson enjoyed hosting parties, traveling, knitting and crocheting, and music. She is survived by her husband, Clark M. Williamson, DB’61, AM’63, PhD’69; a son, Scott Taylor Williamson, AB’97; and a brother, Richard W. Unger, AM’65.

Larry Liss, AB’63, MAT’65, of North Palm Beach, FL, died December 12. He was 75. A star basketball player inducted into the UChicago Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014, Liss supported other student-athletes by cofounding Academic Games Leagues of America and serving with the nonprofit for more than 50 years. He was also a member of the Palm Beach County School Board for three decades, retiring in 2003. He received the Alumni Association’s Public Service Award in 2013. Liss is survived by his wife, Carolyn; two children; three step-children; a sister; two brothers; three grandchildren; and eight step-grandchildren.

Joseph K. Kovach, PhD’63, of Topeka, KS, died November 17. He was 87. A survivor of Soviet Union labor camps and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Kovach was a behavioral geneticist with the psychiatry-focused Menninger Foundation from 1966 to 1993. He enjoyed flying airplanes and reading Russian poetry. Kovach is survived by his wife, Magdalene; a daughter; three sons; a sister; three brothers; 11 grandchildren; six step-grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. 

Warren A. Sommers, MBA’63, died November 14 in West Hartford, CT. He was 96. A US Navy veteran, Sommers was the vice president of operations for Ashland Oil in Tulsa, OK. He was active with the YMCA in Chicago and Connecticut and enjoyed gardening and hiking. Sommers is survived by four daughters, including Kathleen S. Luchs, AB’72; a son; a sister; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Diana Kahn Taylor, SM’63, PhD’66, of Shaker Heights, OH, died June 13. She was 74. A mathematician, she was the author of the Taylor resolution, a result in monomial ideals that remains an active area of research. She enjoyed pottery, painting, horticulture, and spending time with family. Taylor is survived by her husband, Harris C. Taylor, MD’65; a daughter; a son; a brother; and two grandchildren.

James Ralph Winter, AM’66, died September 13 in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was 86. Winter was an economics professor at Acadia University and taught as a visiting scholar at other institutions. A member of several economic associations, he was also a government adviser on matters from water resource management to tax systems. He is survived by his wife, Jean; two daughters; two sons; and seven grandchildren.

Edward Novak, AB’67, died August 18 in Dayton, OH. He was 71. Novak was a nuclear physicist at Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, OH. An avid amateur astronomer, he enjoyed taking photos of stars, planets, and nebulae. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lankford Novak, AB’68, AM’74; a daughter; a son; and two granddaughters.

James Barrett Swain, AM’68, of Cromwell, CT, died November 28. He was 84. A Methodist minister, Swain spent 13 years in north India as a pastor and graduate-level English literature instructor. He later pastored churches in Illinois and Connecticut, and in retirement chaired the advisory board of a local community mental health services center. Swain is survived by his wife, Doris; two daughters; a son; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.


John J. Currano, SM’66, PhD’70, of Chicago, died October 20. He was 72. Currano was on the faculty at Roosevelt University for almost 40 years, retiring in 2008 as professor emeritus of mathematics. He is survived by his wife, Diane Currano, AB’69, and two daughters, including Ellen Currano, SB’03.

David Charles Knaak, AB’72, MAT’73, of Plymouth, MN, died September 6. He was 66. Knaak worked as a computer software engineer at Cray Inc. for 40 years. He enjoyed staying active throughout his life. He is survived by his partner, Pam Arnstein; four children; and four grandchildren.

Mark Tolbert Kenmore, AB’75, of Clarence Center, NY, died November 19 of complications from early-onset dementia. He was 62. Kenmore was an immigration defense attorney known for tackling especially complicated cases; in 2006 he received the Jack Wasserman Memorial Award for excellence in immigration litigation. He is survived by his wife, Sue Tannehill; a daughter; a son; and a brother.

David A. Schattschneider, AM’66, PhD’75, of Bethlehem, PA, died September 29. He was 77. A third-generation Moravian pastor, Schattschneider joined Moravian Theological Seminary in 1968 as a professor of historical theology and world Christianity. He served as dean of the seminary from 1988 until his retirement in 2001 and was active in Moravian cultural organizations. He is survived by his wife, Doris; a daughter; and a grandson.

Marjorie Harkins Buchanan Kiewit, PhD’77, died November 12 in Boston. She was 95. Kiewit was the first female president of Lawrence University’s board of trustees and served on the Governor’s Commission in Education. After receiving her doctorate in education, she was a senior analyst at the Dallas Independent School District and a research fellow at Stanford University while sitting on the board of the Peter Kiewit Foundation. She is survived by two daughters, a son, a sister, seven grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren.

Barry J. Kaplovitz, AB’78, of Winthrop, MA, died November 30 of cancer. He was 62. A political consultant, Kaplovitz worked for the campaign and subsequent administration of Massachusetts governor Edward King. He later formed his own consulting firm, focusing on ballot referendums and gubernatorial and legislative races around the country. He is survived by a sister.


Irene Farkas-Conn, AM’68, PhD’84, died October 11 in Arlington, VA. She was 89. Farkas-Conn helped her family protect thousands of Jewish people in Budapest during World War II before emigrating to America in 1947. She became a leading figure in library information science, lecturing frequently and serving in multiple professional associations. Her second husband, UChicago pediatrician Ira Rosenthal, died in 2002. She is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Pirie Ortmayer, LAB’78; a son; a stepdaughter; two stepsons; and numerous grandchildren.

Jeffrey John Miller, AB’86, died of brain cancer on October 7 in Hayward, WI. He was 53. Miller practiced law in New York, London, and Hong Kong before moving to Wisconsin and purchasing an ice cream shop and bed and breakfast in 2005. He enjoyed running his businesses, walking his dogs, and living in a small town. He is survived by a sister and two brothers.


Gretchen Lynn Whitting, AB’96, of Durham, NC, died October 5. She was 42. Working in economic and financial consulting since graduation, Whitting spent 15 years as a manager at Cornerstone Research, first in Washington, DC, and then in New York City. She was passionate about physical fitness and enjoyed rock climbing and bicycling. She is survived by her mother and her sister.


Megan Rosemary Rawson, AB’11, of Anchorage, AK, died of brain cancer on September 26. She was 27. Rawson taught science at a Navajo Nation high school through Teach for America for several years. She then earned a master’s degree in teaching and spent a year as a science teacher in Anchorage. She is survived by her parents and her sister.