In memoriam: Penn remembers those who passed in 2019

Candle flickers

As the year comes to a close, Penn’s faculty and staff reflect on the giants who left us in 2019. Ones who inspired, who gifted us a better world in their wake, and left footprints that tides won’t easily wash over.

Remembered here are artists of the world, like Toni Morrison, and doctors like Eli Glatstein, formerly the Morton M. Kligerman Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine. Below, recollections of their lives and contributions. 

Remarks by Professor of History of Education Jonathan Zimmerman:

In 1994, the year after I received my Ph.D. in history, I read an essay by Alan Brinkley (1949-2019) called, simply, “The Problem of American Conservatism.” Brinkley scolded my overwhelmingly left-leaning guild for neglecting the right. We too often caricatured conservatives as anti-intellectuals, ignoring their rich tradition in the arts and letters. Or we casually dismissed them as bigots, which was an act of ignorance—and, sometimes, of bigotry—in its own right.
The essay inspired me to think and write more deeply about conservatives in American history. Like Alan Brinkley, I came from solidly Jewish-liberal stock: His father was the famous news telecaster David Brinkley, and mine had been a Peace Corps director in India and Iran. But to Brinkley, liberalism entailed a commitment to dialogue and understanding across political differences. And that's what led him—and, eventually, me—to the study of conservatives.
His project has never been more urgent or important than right now. To be sure, the rise of Donald Trump has exposed deep strands of racism and anti-intellectualism on the American Right. But it is wrong—indeed, it is illiberal—to leave it at that. As Alan Brinkley reminded us, our job as scholars is to understand why people think and act the way they do. And you can't do that if you assume the worst about them before you really know them.

Remarks by Wharton’s John B. Neff Professor of Finance Donald B. Keim:

Marshall Blume, professor emeritus of finance in the Wharton School, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Jan. 27, 2019. Marshall earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1968. He arrived at Wharton in 1967 and spent his entire 44-year academic career here. During that time, he published more than 25 highly influential papers in the top finance journals, many of them contributing in important ways to the foundational knowledge base in financial economics. Marshall’s advisor at Chicago, Nobel laureate Eugene Fama, said that “Marshall’s thesis is among the best of the early crop of papers that gave rise to the strong empirical tradition in finance.” Steve Ross (recently deceased), one of the leading lights in academic finance and a colleague of Marshall’s at Wharton in the 1970s, perhaps said it best: “I saw in Marshall a wonderfully talented and generous individual with an infectious passion for what he was doing. Marshall was a great colleague who not only could answer questions but, much more importantly, he could ask them and his questions made you think deeply. The profession of finance owes an enormous debt to Marshall for his research contributions.”  

Marshall was not only a dear friend, but he was a very important mentor to me. From the very start of my career at Wharton, Marshall and I were collaborating. In the end, we were fortunate to publish eight papers—as well as a few other papers whose quality the journal editors never quite appreciated. I learned many things from Marshall, but probably the most important lesson is about research. Marshall was, and I still am, primarily interested in empirical research; and we typically deal with data that can often be very messy. Marshall always stressed the importance of being very careful with the data—making sure you understand the data, making sure you understand the institutional environment from which the data come, and making sure the data are as clean and error-free as possible. Important lessons for any young researcher.

Marshall’s contributions to the University and Wharton were many, and he was a cornerstone of the Finance Department (as department chair for five years). Perhaps Marshall’s most important contribution was his nearly 25-year tenure as director of the Rodney White Center for Financial Research in the Finance Department. During that time, he encouraged, funded, and promoted the vigorous research environment that has been instrumental in attracting so many of the leaders in academic finance to Wharton. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this in helping to maintain the preeminence of the Wharton School in business education and research over the years.

Remarks by Expedition magazine Editor Jane Hickman (republished from Expedition):

More than a force of nature, Elin Danien (1929-2019) was a dancer, an actress, a writer, scholar, traveler, expert on chocolate, an engaging lecturer, and a beautiful woman who was curious about everything. Responsible for many symposia, workshops, lectures, and books on a variety of subjects in her role as coordinator of Penn Museum events, she saw the need for more public programs—and created programs that exist today, including Member Nights and World Culture Days (now known as CultureFests). She launched the Museum Rentals program, and even helped landscape one of the courtyards one spring. For many years after her official role at the Museum ended, Elin served as a volunteer docent and a research associate in the American Section. In 1986, she founded Bread Upon the Waters, a scholarship program that has provided more than 123 women over the age of 30 with the opportunity to earn their undergraduate degrees at Penn. She became interested in pre-Columbian culture after she hitchhiked to Mexico from her home in New York for a summer vacation—and ended up staying two years. In the early 1970s, she moved to Philadelphia and discovered the letters of Robert James Burkitt in the Penn Museum Archives, and became captivated with this eccentric man who lived in Guatemala, excavating and acquiring objects for the Museum in the early 20th century. 

In 1979, 34 years after Burkitt’s death, she traveled to Guatemala to a ranch, where she found two crates in a barn with “Burkitt” stenciled on them. They contained his notes from 1903-13, which she brought back to the Museum with permission from his family. Her Penn Ph.D. dissertation was focused on pre-Columbian polychrome vessels excavated by Burkitt. She also penned multiple articles for Expedition magazine and other publications. In 2009, she developed the Museum’s exhibition on “Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya.” She often said, “Archaeology is the most fun you can have with your pants on.”

Remarks by Professor of English and Africana Studies Herman Beavers:

I first met Toni Morrison in 1979, during my junior year in college. 

Up till the last time I saw her in the flesh, which would have been sometime in 2016 or ‘17, she never failed to be anything less than awe-inspiring. Though it would be inaccurate for me to say that I don’t discriminate when it comes to her novels, there are some that move me more deeply than others. I can say that studying them and teaching them (as I will be next semester) is always rewarding because each of her novels is so incredibly layered, and that the act of re-reading them inevitably leads to a new epiphany because my critical eye falls on an unfamiliar phrase in what might be an oft-read paragraph. Which is why introducing her work to young people is such an exciting proposition.

Though I’m always surprised at the range of Morrison works students have read prior to coming to Penn, I think it’s safe to say that discussing one of her books in a college classroom in which we’ve quickly dispensed with the question of whether Morrison’s intent is to persuade white readers that her Black characters (and by extension, Blackness) are worthy of their admiration is always invigorating. This because, as the author herself observed in an interview, she’s spent [her] entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of [her] books.” Think of the liberatory power of such a declaration!  

So many of our students have grown up believing whiteness needs to be visible, omnipresent even, for universality to be manifest, for a book to have lasting meaning. Morrison’s insistence that her creative process pays no heed to an imaginary white onlooker means that her characters’ lives have something to teach all of us (which they can belong to all of us). [That’s] a priceless gift.    

Remarks by Marilyn Jordan Taylor Presidential Professor and Chair of Fine Arts Ken Lum:

Marisa Merz had well removed her physical presence from the art world by the late 1970s. Her action did not come with any explicit criticism of the art world. She just withdrew herself, without fanfare, citing the gap that she felt existed between the artworks she made and the life she was leading. Being a woman in a male dominated art world in Italy would have no doubt interlineated the gap. 

So, it was a wonderful surprise to me to find myself at a weeklong retreat in the Tuscan hill town of Serre di Rapolano in the summer of 2000 in the company of Marisa Merz and her husband, artist Mario Merz. I tried several times to speak to her at the retreat but she would always wave me off with a kindly smile. We were all lodged in a stone castle with a beautiful outdoor swimming pool. While I had many conversations with Mario, often while in the pool, I had none with Marisa. Under a patio umbrella by the pool she would sit, always on the same chair, often looking expressionless but for the occasional Mona Lisa smile. 

Then, one day, the chair was empty. Mario continued to be at the castle a few more days. I finally asked him where Marisa had gone. He simply said, “Suo studio.” Marisa Merz passed away in July of this year.

Remarks by the John H. Glick, MD Abramson Cancer Center's Director Professor Robert H. Vonderheide:
The Abramson Cancer Center joins all of the Penn community in remembering our dear friend, colleague, and mentor Dr. Eli Glatstein, who passed away this [year]. We also celebrate the honor of having known him and his everlasting impact on Penn. We often speak of the special culture at Penn Medicine and wonder, “Where did it all come from?” Today, we fondly remember Eli for his formative role in shaping our culture. He stood for all the values we hold dear: patient care, research excellence, collaboration, and especially mentorship.

Remarks by James Metz, chair of Radiation Oncology:

During the course of his esteemed career, Eli Glatstein was dedicated both to his patients and the young physicians under his charge; he was a renowned authority who encouraged new ideas, new approaches, and new thinking.

Dr. Glatstein’s impressive career began after earning his medical degree from Stanford, and performing his post-graduate training at New York Hospital. He was drafted in 1965 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his efforts during active combat in the Republic of South Vietnam. Returning to academic life, Dr. Glatstein completed his Residency and Fellowship in Radiation Therapy at Stanford and started his teaching career as an assistant professor at Stanford in 1972. 

While he was at Stanford, he trained and collaborated with legends in the field of oncology including Henry Kaplan and Saul Rosenberg. He left Stanford to become head of the radiation oncology branch at the National Cancer Institute, where he mentored and assembled an incredible team of radiation oncologists who became leaders in the field today. An interest in particle therapy brought Dr. Glatstein to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he served as professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. 

He joined Penn in 1996 as Professor and Vice Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology, where he had incredible influence over the past 23 years. Dr. Glatstein’s knowledge and leadership shaped Penn Radiation Oncology into the world-renowned department it is today, and he exemplified the core tenet of culture at Penn Medicine: Excellent is Standard. As a mentor, and giant in the field, he helped educate and inspire students far and wide, further extending his influence and legacy. 

The brilliant minds he helped shape included countless leaders in the field as well as a total of 26 chairs of academic departments that immediately trained under him or served with him as Junior Faculty.

His principle interests were Lymphoma, Sarcomas, and lung cancer. He was known for his contributions in each of those fields as well as for his work in Radiation Biology. In the last 30 years, his primary passion was photodynamic therapy, in which he led pioneering work on intraoperative PDT for pleural based malignant diseases. Although he is a radiation oncologist by training, he is likely best known as an outspoken champion of multidisciplinary treatment for cancer.