Publication Date

November 1, 1988

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

John F. Benton

John F. Benton, noted California Institute of Technology medieval historian, recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, and holder of Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships, died February 25, 1988. The 56-year-old scholar, who joined the Caltech faculty as an assistant professor of history in 1965, had been recently named the Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of History. At the time of his death, Dr. Benton was in his third year of a five-year MacArthur Foundation Fellowship that provided a $51,200 yearly stipend.

Dr. Benton was the author of two major books on medieval England and France, and his selection for the MacArthur prize was due to his utilization of scientifically advanced image-enhancing techniques, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, to read faded and damaged medieval manuscripts. More recently, Dr. Benton was continuing his thirty-year study of the late twelfth-century court of the French region of Champagne. He also was known for his studies of the correspondence between the twelfth-century lovers, Heloise and Abelard, and had proposed that Abelard wrote the letters to himself.

Dr. Benton was a member of the AHA Council whose term was to expire in 1989. He also belonged to the Medieval Academy of America and the Medieval Association of the Pacific, and he had served as president of the International Courtly Literature Society. He is survived by his wife, Elspeth, four daughters, and a sister.

Geoffrey Bruun

Geoffrey Bruun, a historian and bibliographer who taught at New York University from 1927 to 1941, died of a kidney ailment at his home in Ithaca, New York. He was 89 years old. Dr. Bruun was the author of several books on European history, including Europe and the French Imperium, published in 1938; Europe in Evolution, 1945; Europe and America Since 1492, 1954, as well as a biography of French statesman, George Clemenceau, published in 1943. Dr. Bruun received a bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia and master’s and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. After retiring as a professor of history from New York University, he was a visiting professor at Cornell University, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, the University of Illinois, and Georgetown University. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Frances Sergeant Childs

Frances Sergeant Childs, AHA member since 1935, professor emeritus of history at Brooklyn College and a member of the founding faculty of the college in 1930, died June 11, 1988. She was 87 years old. Dr. Childs, who retired in 1963, was a specialist on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Franco-American relations. She was an alumna of Bryn Mawr College and received her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University. There are no immediate survivors.

John F. D’Amico

John F. D’Amico, associate professor of history at George Mason University, died of a heart attack on December 9, 1987. Born in Philadelphia in 1947, he earned his B.A. degree from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia in 1969, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history from the University of Rochester. At Rochester he was a University Fellow, an NDEA fellow for three years, and Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, 1975–76. In 1981 he was appointed assistant professor of history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He was promoted to associate professor and received tenure in 1985. He was a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center during 1985–86, and had nearly completed a semester’s research at the American Academy in Rome at the time of his death.

His chosen field of study was Renaissance humanism, especially the intellectual history of the scholars and churchmen in Rome. He was an extremely productive scholar, and is best known for Renaissance Humanism in Papal Rome: Humanists and Churchmen on the Eve of the Reformation, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. John will be missed by his many friends and colleagues, who will remember most the good cheer, enthusiasm, and humor that he brought to every gathering.

—Marion F. Deshmukh
George Mason University

Paul F. Grendler
University of Toronto

Harold Eugene Davis

Harold Eugene Davis, a Latin American scholar and professor emeritus at American University, died of cancer at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Dr. Davis served on the American University faculty from 1947 until he retired in 1973. He continued to teach part time until the fall of 1986. Dr. Davis has served as chair of the history and government department, director of the university’s language center, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and a professor in the schools of international studies and government and public administration. Born in Girard, Ohio, Dr. Davis graduated from Hiram College. He earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago and a doctorate in history at Case Western Reserve University. He is survived by his wife, Audrey, daughter, and three grandchildren.

Sanford Elwitt

Sanford Elwitt, born January 18, 1936, died May 11, 1988, after a long illness. He studied at Cornell University where he received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees; and taught at several universities including Southern Illinois University, Sir George Williams, and the University of Rochester, where he remained until his death. Dr. Elwitt has been the recipient of several awards including Fulbright fellowship and grants from the American Philosophical Society among others. He was also awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant posthumously. Professor Elwitt published, besides a number of articles and reviews, two major and highly acclaimed works on modern French history: The Making of the Third Republic 1968–1884, and The Third Republic Defended: Bourgeois Reform in France 1880–1914. Both have become classic and challenging interpretations of the social and economic bases of republican politics in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. The department of history of the University of Rochester has established a research fund for graduate students in European history in Dr. Elwitt’s name.

—Donald R. Kelley
University of Rochester

William B. George

William B. George, died in Syracuse, New York on May 6, 1988. A native of Syracuse, Dr. George received the B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from Syracuse University in 1948 and 1952, respectively. He then attended Union Theological Seminary where he received his B.D. degree in 1955. He pursued his Ph.D. in British history at Columbia University and earned his doctorate in 1963. He was an assistant professor of history at the University of South Florida from 1963 to 1966 and then moved to the State University of New York, Oswego, where he taught until his death. He is survived by his wife Carol, two sons, and a daughter.

—Douglas Deal
SUNY, Oswego

Victor L. Johnson

Victor L. Johnson, retired head of the history and political science department at Muhlenberg College and professor emeritus of history, died in Allentown, Pennsylvania on January 29, 1988. He was 81 years old. Professor Johnson was affiliated with Muhlenberg College for a total of forty years before his retirement. After graduating from Temple University he gained his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Johnson came to Muhlenberg College where he was appointed head of the history and political science department in 1962. In 1970 he retired as head and became senior professor of history, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. Victor L. Johnson was a scholar, a gentleman, and a teacher who was greatly admired by his students and colleagues.

—Edwin R. Baldrige
Muhlenberg College

Donald Vernon McKay

Donald Vernon McKay, 75, a founder and retired head of the African studies department at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Study in Washington, died of respiratory failure on October 3, 1988. Dr. McKay taught history at Syracuse University and worked for the Foreign Policy Association in New York and for the State Department before joining the school of international study in 1956. He was department chair and professor there until retiring in 1978. He was a member of the American Historical Association, Council of Foreign Affairs, the American Political Science Association, the South African Institute of Race Relations, and the Cosmos Club.

Dr. McKay received a bachelor’s degree in history at Baker University in his native Kansas, a master’s degree in African studies at Syracuse University and a doctorate in African studies at Cornell University. He taught at Syracuse from 1936 to 1945, then was a research associate with the Foreign Policy Association in New York. Survivors include two daughters, Margaret Ann McKay and Patricia McKay Baker.

Samuel R. Mohler

Samuel R. Mohler, retired professor of history at Central Washington University, died at his home in Ellensburg, Washington on March 31, 1988. He was 87 years old. Professor Mohler received his B.A. degree for Manchester College in Indiana and a B.D. degree from Yale University in 1931. He earned his M.A. at the University of Washington and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In January 1943, Professor Mohler joined the faculty at Central Washington University, where he remained a prominent member of the history department until his retirement in 1969. Professor Mohler is remembered by his friends, colleagues, and former students as a person of highest ethical standards and intellectual honesty. He is survived by his wife Mary.

—Daniel B. Ramsdell
Central Washington University

Philip Wayne Powell

Philip Wayne Powell, a leading scholar of Latin American and Spanish history and faculty member at the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California, died on September 17, 1987 after suffering a heart attack. Skilled in Spanish language studies, Powell was a bilingual scholar, welcomed as a speaker and spokesperson by the division of cultural relations of the U.S. State Department where he was employed from 1941 to 1943. Powell then joined the faculty at Northwestern University in 1944, and in 1948 moved west to Santa Barbara and taught at the University of California. His real legacy was his vital record as a scholar and teacher in the early history of Spain and the New World.

—Wilbur R. Jacobs
University of California at Santa Barbara