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August 30, 2001

Remembering Wes: Friends, family, former colleagues reminisce

E. Maxine Bruhns

Director of the Nationality Rooms Program

Wesley Wentz Posvar's name indicated his European heritage. He wore the badge proudly. Since part of his ancestry was Moravian, he was pleased that he could look into the Czechoslovak Room from his office. He often took his guests on a tour of the Nationality Rooms — Stansfield Turner and Henry Kissinger come to mind. This happened so often that Quo Vadis, the Nationality Rooms student guide organization, made him a honorary Quo Vadis guide, gold pin and all.

I also remember one spring day in the '60s when Ruth Crawford Mitchell (founder and director of the Nationality Rooms Program, 1926-56) offered to introduce Wes and Mildred to Pittsburgh's ethnic neighborhoods. Helen Knox, former assistant to the chancellor, and I came along. David, the British chauffeur, made six.

We crossed over Panther Hollow and began to walk up the hill. A feisty neighborhood dog began snarling at Wes's heels, calling attention to the two quarter-sized holes in Wes's socks.

Later, our station wagon sprung a gas leak. Wes flagged down a police van — a sinister black Mariah for transporting prisoners — and herded us four ladies into the van. We were driven to a gas station where we waited for David and Wes to arrive amidst spewing gasoline. At the station, Wes began giving orders to the police and David like the colonel he was. The gas station attendant observed the action, then turned to us and asked, "Who is that little red-headed guy?"


Fran Czak

Director of the University Senate Office

As director of the Office of Special Events, I worked for Dr. Wesley Posvar for 17 fascinating and challenging years. Dr. Posvar set a standard for excellence that I sometimes worried we couldn't meet. We would leave event-planning meetings and shake our heads and say that what he wanted couldn't be done — of course, we never had the nerve to tell him that. Inevitably we would find ways to do the impossible. It helped that Dr. Posvar knew all the right people in all the right places and was held in such high regard in many different circles. Such was the respect and admiration he had earned that when using his name, sites previously booked became available and very busy people would free up their calendars to be guest speakers with little notice.

Dr. Posvar rarely missed a football game and always took a small entourage to the away games, which Special Events coordinated. He didn't like the Panthers to ever lose a game, but he was always happy, win or lose, when we were pitted against either Army or Navy. When we traveled to West Point or Annapolis, the host teams would always recognize him with full military fanfare and he was thrilled to be in that environment.

Dr. Posvar was often spontaneous, always interesting, surprisingly and touchingly shy around guests whom he did not know. I cherish the years I worked for him.


Herb Ferguson

Retired University photographer

I was taking some photographs at a reception in the foyer of the Carnegie Music Hall following some event years ago and I said, "Dr. Posvar, let me get a shot of you." He said, "Wait a minute, Herb. People have to know who I am." And he took his name tag sticker off his suit coat and stuck it right on his forehead. "There," he said. So I have a picture somewhere of him with his name plastered on his forehead.

I've taken many pictures of him and Mrs. Posvar, Christmas card shots and portraits of them and the kids and the grandkids and weddings and so forth, and I remember two things about that. One, Wes was always the voice of authority when the kids were goofing around and wouldn't stand still. "Cool it!" he'd say. "Stand where your mother tells you and straighten up." And, boy, would they listen to him! And he was always cooperative, even though he was the "big wig." He took the time to let me do it right, no matter how busy he was. "What do you want me to do now?" he'd always ask.

He was very interested in photography himself. He traveled extensively and always took pictures around the world. I remember one morning at 6:30, I was asleep and I get this call, "Herb, it's Wes Posvar. What's the best film to use with a such-and-such camera?" I said, "Dr. Posvar, it's 6:30 in the morning. Where are you?" And he said, "I'm leaving for Europe. I'm in my car on my way to the airport to catch a plane. Now, what film should I get?" I said, "The same film I told to you to get the last time you asked me. Now, I'm going back to bed."

I remember being out at the residence taking a portrait and I was getting ready to leave and he said, "Don't go anywhere. I've got something to show you." He ran into the house and came back out with all these blueprints for a house they were building in Ligonier. Now, I'm just a University photographer, and he'd be saying, "What do you think of this?" and "I designed that. I think it's a nice touch." He had me pore over these blueprints and tell him what I thought.


Ron Gigliotti

Associate director of Special Events

Pitt went to the John Hancock Bowl game in 1989, in El Paso, and when we got there I was so busy running around that I didn't have time to unpack my suitcase. Later, we were on our way to Mexico to watch a bullfight and I fell and broke my fingers. I went to a hospital and had a cast put on. When I got back to my room at the motel, I couldn't even open my suitcase. Well, without hesitation, Dr. Posvar came to my room and unpacked my suitcase for me.


Adolf Grünbaum

Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Philosophy of Science, research professor of psychiatry, chair of the Center for the Philosophy of Science

I was one of the six elected faculty members serving on the committee to select a chancellor. When Wes was being interviewed for the chancellor's job, we had a committee meeting at the top suite of Bruce Hall. Gwilym Price was chairman of the Board of Trustees at that time and he refused to tell us of Wes's military background, for fear that would prejudice us against him.

I was in the Army in World War II and I was neither biased in favor nor against the military, but that part of Wes never seemed to make any difference in his service to the University as chancellor.

I learned afterward that, because we had interrogated him, literally, very extensively, and it happened to be a Sunday and he and Millie were staying at the Hilton, and in those days in Pennsylvania you couldn't get a drink in hotels on Sunday, he told Millie, "I don't care what you have to do, but I need a drink!" And somehow she managed to get him one.

He called me many times for advice. As an example, there was some foot-dragging going on about establishing the Honors College. There were charges that the idea of an Honors College was elitist. Well, at a university, one wants to strive for heights of greatness, so this was not necessarily a bad thing.

Anyway, when I told Wes about this foot-dragging, he was very distressed about it. He said, "I'm going to do something about this!" And the very next morning he did.

Wes's intellectual acuity was a constant thing. He was quick-witted and his intellect was very rapid. Wes was very competitive, loved quizzes and exams and wanted to do very well on them all the time.

He, and this applies to Millie, too, was also very kind and gracious. I remember a day when there was a reception at his residence to announce a $1 million dollar gift to the Honors College. It happened to be the same day that my daughter had given birth to twin boys. Well, he made that part of his announcement, even though we were gathered for a totally different reason.

He told me after he stepped down as chancellor and was teaching political science that he saw the faculty side of things in that job that gave him a somewhat different perspective. He said he would have done some things differently if he had had that perspective while he was chancellor.  


James Holland

Professor in the Department of Psychology

Posvar came in for considerable hard times from students and some faculty about University complicity in the Vietnam War. The main thing I remember about him during those days is that as an adversary he was very good. The tenure of university presidents and chancellors in those days tended to be pretty short, but he lasted through it all.

During those years, it was hard for anybody in a position of power to be viewed as being as affirmative in race matters as one might have wished. But by and large, I think he was very good. When he became chancellor, Pitt was still requiring that candidates for staff jobs take a 12-minute paper-and-pencil intelligence test. I don't know whether anyone still uses that kind of test, but it was quite common in those days. It was multiple choice and didn't require a professional to score it, but it also happened to be culturally biased against minorities. Wes mandated dropping that test when he was made aware of it.

In later years, when Wes and I would cross paths he would often remind me of the Poor People's Campaign. That was when a large contingent of poor people, most of them African Americans, traveled across the country to the U.S. capitol and camped on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. As they traveled, they stopped in various cities. I was among a group that tried to get Pitt dorms opened for the poor people to stay en route to Washington, D.C. This was in May, after the spring semester was over, so those dorms were largely unoccupied.

Some members of the Pitt administration didn't want to give room keys to the poor people. I marched into Wes's office and explained why they needed keys; otherwise, they felt they couldn't leave their possessions in the rooms. The objection was made that the University would have to change the locks after these people left. I said, "Do you change locks in the dorms every time students leave at the end of a semester? This is racist!" Not everyone was convinced, but the chancellor said: "Give them the keys."  


Burkart Holzner

Distinguished Service Professor of International Studies, Professor of Sociology and Public and International Affairs, and University Center for International Studies (UCIS) Professor

When he became chancellor, Wes said right away that the University needed to develop an international dimension. He brought a very thoughtful design for UCIS when he and Carl Beck created the center in 1968. He was very proud to have learned at Harvard how not to organize international studies. He said "Harvard did it all wrong. There were professional fief-doms there that stifled good communication." So he invented a structure that would promote cooperation among faculty and among departments and that's the way it's been for more than 30 years now.

I remember particularly our shared project, led by Professor C.K. Yang, to rebuild modern sociology in the People's Republic of China in December 1979. This was probably the most significant event of the University's role in China. Wes and the rest of us presented lectures on the uses of sociology and then were received by Vice Prime Minister Yao Yi Lin in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. On that occasion, Yao Yi Lin announced on Chinese national television that the discipline of sociology (which had been forbidden since 1952) was to be re-established and that we had convinced his government of this idea.

Wes quipped afterwards: "Oh, what have you done? You can't even explain to me what sociology is, and you have imposed it on one billion people." Well, we sociologists teased him in turn about the oxymoron of "political science."

Just last December, Mark Nordenberg and I, with several other colleagues, attended the conference on the progress of Chinese sociology over the last 20 years. It was a moving tribute to Professor Yang and to us.  


Kevin Kearns

Assistant to the president, 1988-1991; On leave from the faculty of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Wes Posvar was a life-long student of international affairs and had a holistic, systemic view on world events and trends. He never perceived significant events in isolation. He had a "global perspective" on just about everything.

I remember being with him in an airport during the last days of the Soviet Union, watching a television report of citizens in one of the satellite countries celebrating in the streets. Like everyone, of course, Wes was thrilled by the prospects of democratization, but he also understood better than most the dangers that lay ahead. He turned from the TV and said something like, "Those people are celebrating now because few of them know how difficult it will be in the years ahead."

Today, looking back on 10 years of ethnic conflict, brutal dictatorships and economic strife in many parts of Eastern Europe, it is clear that Wes understood exactly what the next 10 years would bring.

He was a kind and thoughtful man. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him.


Bernard J. Kobosky

Former vice chancellor for Public Affairs

When he came to the University, I was the dean of Admissions. I sensed in him then the inner strength, the contained composure, indeed, the spark of greatness that so many would come to know. In the years that followed we worked together, endured many difficult times together and rejoiced over his many accomplishments.

Dr. Posvar set for all of us a standard of excellence, a personal challenge to do our best in everything we do.

He was thoughtful and reflective, yet he was a man of decision and action. He had great confidence and self-assurance. He was serious and solemn, yet he possessed a deep and rich sense of humor. He was always in the center of the action, yet he had the capacity to look at himself objectively and dispassionately as though from a distance.

He was a man of strong convictions, one who made every effort and commitment to have his convictions on affirmative action, student rights and faculty representation prevail; but he was never intolerant of the views of others. He demanded excellence in himself and made vast sacrifices to achieve it, yet he had a limitless compassion for the shortcomings of others.

Dr. Posvar was a blend of the idealist and the pragmatist — idealist in the goals he set for the University, but eminently practical in his efforts to achieve those goals. The University is a much better place because he was here.John Majors

Special assistant to the chancellor and to the athletics director; Head football coach, 1973- 1977

He was a great man who was at the right place at the right time. Before I came to the University I didn't know anything about him. But before long we became very well-acquainted. He was dedicated to excellence in all things, academic and athletic. And he believed in the importance of winning. He was very competitive.

And he was very committed to me and the football program. "I want to support you in every way I can," he'd tell me, and he backed up his commitment: He increased scholarships, he built new locker rooms in the old stadium. He would even drop in occasionally, unannounced, to our practices. I'd stop the practice and introduce him and without fail he'd speak to the team.

There were also times when we'd bring prospects to the campus, some with parents, and he'd meet them — sometimes in a suit and tie, sometimes in tennis togs — and he'd show them the chancellor's office and tour the Nationality Rooms and he'd say, "Now listen, young men and parents, I brought Coach Majors here to win the national championship." I can tell you those prospects were all eyes and ears.

He always attended our games, home and away, unless he had some pressing business in Washington or with corporate leaders. And usually he'd invite them to the game, so he wouldn't miss it. He loved to know what was going on. He had a pre-game brunch at his house and after the game he'd have me over for a social event and we'd review the game. I loved that! He could hardly stand to be in the press box for the whole game, so every halftime he'd come into our locker room for a restroom stop and he'd stay around to hear what I had to say to the team. He didn't want to be nosy or intrusive, but he'd be around.

Later, he sent me a picture of all the mounted wristwatches from bowl games and NCAA basketball games and the national championship ring was at the top. He signed it with a note: "To John Majors, who started it all. Wesley Posvar." But, of course, it was Wesley Posvar who started it all.


Edward McCord

Director of programming, University Honors College; Former assistant to the chancellor for academic affairs, 1983-1990

When I was working in the chancellor's office, we would get lots of mail, including gifts to the University and to Wes from adoring alumni, and they were often in the form of panther figurines.

Well, one day, we were really busy, it was the end of the day, and Wes got this package. He opened it and in it was a plaster-of-Paris figurine that was supposed to be a panther, but it was severely distorted.

Suddenly, Wes went off and got Rose, his appointment secretary, and asked that she come in so he could dictate a letter.

He dictated a letter to Bryce Jordan [Penn State president at that time]: "Dear Bryce: We received this gift of what seems to be a panther. But after consulting all of our zoologists, we have it on the best authority that this is, in fact, a Nittany lion. Therefore, I am sending it to you. Best regards, Wes Posvar."

A few weeks later, he got a response from Bryce Jordan: "We have consulted all our expert zoologists and it is not a Nittany lion, but in fact is a panther. However, we are keeping it anyway…."


Dennis P. McManus

Director of the Institute of Politics; Former head of Pitt's Governmental Relations

Hours after attending the wrap-up of an Institute of Politics-sponsored conference on health disparities, Posvar died of a heart attack after swimming with his grandchildren. McManus recalled a swimming-related story about Posvar from the late 1970s, when McManus was Pitt's new assistant director of Commonwealth Relations: I was in my early 20s, and we were in Harrisburg for the state appropriations hearings. This was serious business. A group of us from Pitt were brainstorming in the bar of the old Holiday Inn. Wes wasn't with us because he'd decided to go for a swim. The Holiday Inn bar had these portholes through which you could see into the pool. The next thing we know, Wes is underwater, banging on the porthole glass and waving to us. That was so unlike the image of "Chancellor Posvar" that I'd had when I was a student. I knew he'd graduated first in his class at West Point. I knew he'd been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. I knew he'd been a test pilot. But I didn't know he was the type of guy who would swim down to a porthole and bang on it and wave to people in a bar.

I remember the first time I was summoned to Wes's office to actually render advice. Wes says to me, "Okay, tell me about this." I can't remember today what the topic was, but I started talking. Then Wes's phone rings and he takes the call, so I stop talking, but he motions for me to continue. As he's on the phone, he starts writing notes on a pad, so again I stop. I figure, maybe the guy can talk on the phone and listen to my report, but he can't talk on the phone and take notes and listen to my report. But he motions for me to keep talking. So I'm talking, he's writing — about something, it turns out, that didn't have anything to do with what he was on the phone about — and after I finish my report, he repeats the whole thing back to me and asks great questions based on what I'd told him while he was doing two other things. I thought that was astounding.

It's funny, the memories that pop into your head when you hear that someone has died. One of the things I remembered about Wes was the time he organized a paper airplane flying contest before the Cotton Bowl in the early 1980s. Pitt's headquarters were at a hotel in Dallas, and the interior was a giant atrium. Every hallway was like a balcony to the lobby below. Wes's room was on the top floor. He'd invited folks to stop by there, and many did. I guess the conversation started to drag because Wes suddenly got up, looked over the balcony and said, "This would be a great place to throw a paper airplane. Let's have a contest." The idea was to see whose flew the longest and took the most time to hit the folks down below in the lobby. Wes's plane won. It did these beautiful, perfect loops around the atrium of the hotel and landed 20 stories below after considerable time in flight. We did think it was a bit unfair because he'd had more experience in aeronautics than the rest of us….


Mark Nordenberg


Because of the great programmatic, physical and fiscal progress forged under his leadership, Chancellor Posvar always will be remembered as one of the true giants in this University's proud history. But in more human terms, he also will be remembered as a person who created special opportunities for countless others. I, certainly, am among them.

Wes named me interim dean of our School of Law when I was only 37 — just recently appointed a full professor and with almost no administrative experience. That decision by him changed the course of my life. A decade later, when I succeeded him in the chancellor's office, he was one of the first to extend congratulations, and he remained an unfailing source of support.

Being well aware of the extraordinary achievements that characterized the professional lives of both members of Pitt's "Posvar team," I sometimes would ask my own wife, "Nikki, what in the heck are you and I doing in Wes's and Millie's jobs?" Once, after hearing that story, Wes offered to provide me an answer. "You are doing very well," he said to me. Because I always found his record of accomplishment intimidating, as well as inspiring, that kind of expression of reassurance meant a great deal to me.


Robert Perloff

Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Business Administration and of Psychology, Katz Graduate School of Business

After his retirement, Wes, much to his credit, continued in intellectual activities on campus, one of which I was fortunate to be involved in. He and University Professor of Economics Mark Perlman established a monthly roundtable (fashioned after New York's famous Algonquin Roundtable) luncheon that met at the Pitt Club. The roundtable group consisted of 15 or so senior professors. Wes and Mark rounded up prominent members of the University community, of Pittsburgh, of Allegheny County, of neighboring institutions, to meet informally with our group and to hold forth on any subject that struck their fancy. Generally, Wes introduced the monthly speaker and moderated the discussion, sometimes an impossible task due to the verbosity and enthusiasm of the babbling prima donnas around the luncheon table.

During these lunches Wes would share with us trips he had just come back from here and there throughout the world, or trips he was about to embark upon. Not many years ago he became president of an international association, the World Society of Ekistics, that consisted of Pooh-Bahs and Big Kahunas from government, literature, architecture, the sciences and the media. He was comfortably and productively in his element on the world stage, Wes was.

One day he could not contain himself when he announced breathlessly to one and all at lunch that the International Herald Tribune was now available, as I recall, at the Pitt Book Center and the Squirrel Hill News store. He was, until the very end of his celebrated days, very much a man of the larger world, in which he moved comfortably and to which he contributed grandly.

Wes Posvar was not a mythical figure, but a human being with the foibles and, figuratively, the effluvia afflicting us all: In his case, for example, his fearsomely intimidating bushy eyebrows, his interminable throat-clearings. But overall, he was a special breed, a guy the likes of which we will seldom see again. We should be thankful that he graced our environment for these many years, a man of his time and ahead — way ahead — of his time. He took us on a great ride — more ups than downs, and very few jolts and bumps — and we're the better for it.

Unlike a few of his contemporaries who are forgotten but not gone, Wes Posvar, now gone, will not be forgotten.


William H. Rea

Chairperson of Pitt's Board of Trustees, 1967-1978

Rea was elected trustees chairperson on June 1, 1967, the same day that Posvar was named chancellor. He had served on the chancellor search committee.

It was an 18-month search. The first two people we asked to take the job of chancellor turned us down — fortunately, I think. At the end of 1966, Joseph Hughes [officer of T. Mellon & Sons] had met the Posvars in New York City, where Millie was performing in an opera. Joe Hughes came back to Pittsburgh, knowing we'd run out of candidates, and told us: "I think this young man Wesley Posvar would be marvelous." Wes was just 41 years old at the time.

We interviewed him, we thought he was great, and we offered him the job right after the search committee met with him. Just before New Year's, though, we got word that the Faculty Senate wanted to interview him. Well, I thought that was going to be the end of it because Wes was on the faculty at the Air Force Academy and I never thought that our faculty would approve anybody from the military. The Vietnam War was escalating, and it was a very anti-military era.

We took Millie to the golf club for dinner while Wes was being interviewed by the Senate. I was sitting on pins and needles, wondering what was going to happen and fearing the worst, when all of a sudden Wes came in the door of the golf club, smiling, and everything was fine. The faculty had decided he was great. His hiring was the best thing that ever happened to Pitt, really. When he was elected, the University had a $30 million unsecured debt, and he was able to pay that off in about five years. The other thing that saved the University was that the faculty didn't leave. Almost everybody on the Pitt faculty could have gotten jobs elsewhere, but they stuck with us.

Soon after Nixon was elected [in 1968], Wes came down to my office and said, "I've been offered a job in the president's office with Haldeman. I don't know what to do about it." Fortunately, he turned it down. There wasn't much I could have done to keep him here. He was always underpaid while he was at Pitt. That was partly my fault, I guess, but we couldn't pay people much in the wake of the financial crisis of the mid-1960s.

It took me a little while to learn how to work with Wes. I finally realized that he was always thinking about 10 minutes ahead of me. He had such a quick mind. Roger Ahlbrandt Sr., who succeeded me as board chairman, told me he had exactly the same problem. He said it took him a while to realize that Wes was two jumps ahead of us all the time. While we were talking about some problem, he'd already figured it out.

I remember attending one trustees meeting with Wes in the Babcock Room at the top of the Cathedral of Learning, during which a staff member from Wes's office came in and handed me a note saying that a group of students had barricaded us in the room. This was at the height of the time of student activism.

I handed the note to Wes. None of the other trustees knew what was going on. I whispered to Wes, "Let's tell the students that we'll meet with them down in your office after the meeting." That worked. The students called off the barricade and went down to the chancellor's office and waited for us. We must have talked with these students for three hours. After they calmed down and went away, Wes said to me: "You are the worst tactician I have ever known. There was only one way of getting out of my office. Of all the places to pick, that was the worst." Soon after that, a back door was installed so the chancellor had an alternative way to reach the hall from his office.


Lisa Rossi

Associate director, News Bureau of UPMC Health System and Schools of the Health Sciences

As the daughter of the chancellor, it was never my intention to go to school at Pitt (for the record, I went to Penn State), or to work here. But in 1983 I found myself accepting a job at WPIC. Thankfully, I had recently been married, so in my married name I had an alias of sorts. Few people knew who I really was, that my father was Wes Posvar. And I liked it that way. I didn't want anyone getting the wrong idea that I got the job because of obvious "connections." And I didn't want to be prejudged, good or bad.

My father completely respected this. But he couldn't help himself either. He frequently blew my cover by showing up unannounced in my work place, usually with an entourage in tow. So much for trying to maintain a low profile. But even worse, if he'd see me at some official medical center event, what would he do but instantly become the gushing father of his little girl. I'm sure there were a few who wondered what all that was about! I'm sorry, but being smothered with kisses in front of lots of people is a bit embarrassing.

In more recent years his visits to my office coincided with his teaching schedule or doctors' appointments. Now that he's gone I regret the many times I shooed him away because I was too busy for his social visits. Because I essentially grew up at Pitt (I was 7 when he became chancellor), most of my memories of him are right here in Oakland. I miss him terribly. He enriched my life, and I know he will continue to do so.


Peter Safar

Distinguished Service Professor, Safar Center for Resuscitation Research

Wes Posvar led our University for 23 years with collegiality, fairness, open-mindedness, visionary priorities and internationalism. He helped resuscitate our campuses. Students and faculty trusted him, even when it was difficult for him during the Cold War and anti-Vietnam War movement.

The scope of his career and accomplishments is awesome. As founder/leader of Pitt's and UPMC's Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine and Emergency Medicine Services programs (1961-79) and of the International Resuscitation Research Center (1979-94), I appreciated Posvar's interest in the health sciences in general and in our programs in particular. He showed interest in first aid, he said, because of his background with the Boy Scouts; and in our Freedom House ambulance program (for Pitts-burgh's African American community), he said, because of his commitment to interracial tolerance. When we shared discussions on disaster medicine and "peace medicine," the former military leader and this academic physician called each other "qualified pacifists" — realizing the need for conflict resolution and peacemaking. With both our paternal names of Czech origin, it was natural that we helped colleagues from Iron Curtain countries.

When my wife Eva and I, both ex-Viennese, learned that Chancellor Litchfield's successor would come to Pittsburgh with his spouse Mildred Miller, a renowned Metropolitan Opera star, having heard her superb interpretation of songs by Mahler and Brahms, we immediately felt that all would be all right, as the Posvars would bring Pitt not only leadership, but also more style and culture.

During his semi-retirement, up to the last month of his life, he shared one luncheon per month with some of us old professors. He was still a dynamic discussant of community and world affairs. Our academic community owes Wes Posvar deep gratitude.



W. Edward Sell

Dean and Distinguished Service Professor of Law Emeritus

My dear friend, the late Ed Forrest, former dean of the School of Dental Medicine, and I would from time to time when at meetings when Wes was present act as though we were not friends. At a graduation rehearsal one year when I was dean [of the School of Law] the stage was arranged the way it would be for the actual ceremony. Each person's name was on a label on his or her seat. Ed and I were seated next to each other. When Ed rose to give his introduction, his label was on the seat of his pants. When he sat down, I made a smart remark to him about it and he yelled out (in jest, of course) that he was tired of my picking on him. Wes thought we really didn't like each other and arranged for the changing of my seat to the other side of the stage for the actual commencement.


Vijai Singh

Associate chancellor for Faculty Affairs; Former director of the University Center for Social and Urban Research

Wes was a pioneer in interdisciplinary research through his establishment of the University Center for International Studies [UCIS], the University Center for Social and Urban Research [UCSUR] and many other centers. He saw that people from different disciplines, when they come together to work on similar problems, can come up with many more discoveries than someone who is working alone.

He started UCSUR as a counterpart to UCIS, meaning that UCSUR was supposed to coordinate and conduct major research projects on regional and national issues here in the United States. He saw that this region lacked the research capabilities and data resources to be able to determine what was good for western Pennsylvania.

He used Pitt's centers to fill the gap that existed in the public policy-making infrastructure in this region.

He spoke around the world about this region. He was so gung-ho about Pittsburgh, how this is a place where industry, universities and foundations forge alliances and develop policy visions. Wes's domestic agenda was even bigger, in my view, than his international agenda.

Morgan Thomas Retired administrative aide at the chancellor's residence He was delightful to be with. I started working there years ago, helping schedule social functions and events, after Mrs. Posvar found out I had an interest and appreciation for music, and Wes and I eventually became very good friends. We'd talk about current events and whatever struck us to talk about.

He had no prejudices. I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone.


Edward Zemprelli

Former Democratic Party leader in the state Senate; General Assembly member, 1963-1988

As a member of the state House of Representatives, Zemprelli co-sponsored the legislation that led to Pitt becoming a state-related university in 1966.

You knew with Dr. Posvar that you were dealing with a highly intelligent person, but he was never arrogant.

I got the feeling sometimes that he may have been reticent about socializing with large groups. Certainly, he wasn't a glad-hander.

But one-on-one, you knew the guy had it. He didn't embellish things, he told them the way they were, and we respected him for that. He was extremely cooperative with the General Assembly and presented himself and the University of Pittsburgh well during appropriation hearings in Harrisburg.

We never had any occasion to doubt his word. He never backed down from a commitment, and you could rely on what he told you.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 1

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