Dear Pitzer Community,
It is with great sadness I notify you that our friend, scholar and colleague, Professor Emeritus of History Stuart McConnell, passed away earlier today, Valentine’s Day, surrounded by family. As you may know, Stu has been in a courageous struggle to recover from a major illness for several years. Throughout this challenging time, he continued to contribute to our community and taught his last class in fall 2018.
Stu was a collegial presence on the Pitzer campus. He was open and available to friends and strangers alike, lived Pitzer’s mission of educating students to make meaningful contributions to the world, and was a charismatic colleague and inspiring professor of history for 32 years. He recently explained his approach, “You have to have a sense of humor to start with,” he explained. “Playful is a quality of interaction between teachers and students that’s less formal. It’s where you aren’t ‘Herr Doktor’ imparting the wisdom of the ages, but somebody who has a favorite sports team. Whatever it is that brings you down off the pedestal.”
Chris Bray ’03, who took McConnell’s senior historiography seminars recalled, “He taught students to think like historians, to be careful about evidence.”
Stu held degrees from the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his PhD. Stu was respected by faculty members, students and staff and we will all miss his engaged expertise as a historian and his modest good humor.
Stu provided expert remarks about America’s violent political climate in the 1970’s, helping to set the stage for Pitzer’s screening of Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep at the Claremont Laemmle Theater in 2013. Stu kindly stayed after the screening to answer every question attendees had.
Last fall, Pitzer’s faculty hosted a retirement dinner for Stu. The outpouring of love and gratitude for their colleague and friend that night swept over the gathering and lifted him into the rarefied honor of Pitzer Professor Emeritus and friend for life.
Stu is survived by his wife Rebecca Franko and children, Alex and Leah.
I asked Stu to introduce our Stephen and Sandra Glass endowed lecturer last Spring, Professor Jeffrey Stewart, whose book, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke was the National Book Award winner for nonfiction in 2018. Stu gave a trenchant introduction that weaved humor with acute observations on Professor Stewart’s work. Throughout his illness he never lost his verve and joy in teaching, no matter the venue. We remember Stu warmly and will miss his presence on campus. Please join me and Suzanne in sending our deepest condolences to his family and friends. A celebration of Stu’s life will be held on campus; more information is forthcoming.
Please remember that counseling and referral services are available to staff and faculty through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) from OptumHealth by calling (800) 234-5465. For assistance, contact the Office of Human Resources at extension 18254, [email protected] or in-person at McConnell Center 310.
Melvin L. Oliver