Henry Immerwahr, 1916-2013

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We are saddened to share that Henry Rudolph Immerwahr, emeritus professor, passed away on Sept. 15, 2013. Prof. Immerwahr’s colleagues and former students remember the international scholar for his innovative intellect and sociable and patient personality.

Memorial services will be held 2 p.m. Oct. 5, 2013 at Carol Woods.

Born in Germany and educated at the University of Florence, the philologist continued his education at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. There, he met his wife, Sara Anderson Immerwahr. With the outbreak of war, Prof. Immerwahr immigrated to America in 1939, continuing his studies at Yale University and serving in the U.S. Army. After the war and a brief stint at Harvard University, the Herodotus scholar returned to Yale as a professor for ten years before migrating south to Chapel Hill in 1957.

Here, he and his wife became prominent academic and social fixtures in the department. He rose to the rank of full professor by 1963, and she taught part-time for the department before becoming an associate professor in the Department of Art.

“I have so many good memories, often of Henry and Sally together entertaining after evening lectures,” Kenneth Reckford reflected in an email. “They were a wonderful team.”

The congenial professor also helped those around him navigate academia. Prof. Reckford often reaped the bounty of Prof. Immerwahr’s “old and new ways of thinking about Classics” over coffee and doughnuts in Lenoir Hall. “It helped me enormously to discuss Homer with him, and Herodotus and Thucydides, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, and Plato, but more than that: Henry helped me feel more comfortable personally, both in the scholarly world and in the University, than I had ever felt before. He was my mentor. My corruptor, too: I had never before been a coffee-drinker.”

Coupling his caring attitude with a shrew eye for detail, Prof. Immerwahr thrived as an administrator, especially from 1966 through 1976 while George Kennedy chaired the department.

“Henry, in my fancy, played bishop to George’s king,” Prof. Reckford recalled. “He chewed over problems of individuals, of departmental morale and direction, much as he chewed over problems in Herodotus or Attic vase inscriptions.”

The bishop played a heavy hand in all levels of academic programming, establishing the curriculum requirements that still outline our present day requirements. He especially was credited with organizing the archaeology program and restructuring the graduate philology  programs, particularly re-igniting the Greek Ph.D. program. John Ziolkowski was the first student to complete a Greek Ph.D. thesis in 1963, and Prof. Immerwahr directed a total of 15 dissertations and one thesis while at UNC.

“Henry Immerwahr directed my dissertation and I took several of his courses,” William C. West, a former student and colleague, wrote. “He was a stimulating teacher, because of his knowledge of his subject and ability to convey it.”

“Henry found ways to improve morale,” George Houston explained. “As acting chair, Henry (with Nancy Honeycutt’s help) realized one summer that there was a little extra money in the Department’s annual funds.  The result? A free lunch for the members of the Department, the “First Annual Salad Sling and Chicken Fling.” Although no one tossed salad and chicken the next year, Prof. Immerwahr always remained cognitive of the personal needs of his fellows and students.

When not attending to the needs of others, the “conscience of the department” was diligent with his own academic pursuits. He published Form and Thought in Herodotus (1966) and Attic Script: A Survey (1990), and established an online version of A Corpus of Attic Vase Inscriptions, with printed versions available at UNC, Oxford University, and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

“It was the range of his interests, and his expertise in so many of them, that was so remarkable,” Prof. Houston summized. “From elementary Latin to graduate Greek courses, Greek archaeology to literary theory, Latin poetry to Greek vase inscriptions: Henry knew them all.” As a result, he was a member of the American Philological Association, the Archaeological Institute of America, a corresponding member of the Deutsches Archaologisches Institut, and the Philoi of the Gennadeion.

After years of service to UNC, the Alumni Distinguished Professor of Greek retired early in 1977 to serve as director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He and his wife worked at the school where they met until 1982. After which, they returned to Chapel Hill and remained active in department until Sarah Immerwahr’s passing in 2008.

Prof. Immerwahr is survived by his daughter Mary Hiniker and her husband Jerry and their children.