Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

June 13, 2002

Obituary: James Steele Gow Jr.

James Steele Gow Jr.

Former Pitt administrator James Steele Gow Jr. of Allison Park died June 6, 2002, after a brief battle with cancer. He was 83.

Gow was a graduate of Shadyside Academy. He earned a B.A. in political science from Williams College in 1941 and a Ph.D. in political science from Pitt in 1951.

Prior to serving in the Navy during World War II, Gow worked as a journalist. After the war, he resumed his journalistic career, serving as news editor of both the Pittsburgh Press and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette between 1945 and 1955.

In 1955, Gow began his career at Pitt, joining the faculty in the political science department. With the exception of 1965-68, when he served as vice president of planning and development for Bucknell University, Gow's academic career was spent at Pitt. "He loved the University," said his daughter, Robin Gow Wingard.

Gow served Pitt in both faculty and administrative roles for over 28 years. His administrative positions included: appointment in 1958 as head of the Coordinated Education Center, an early effort to link high schools to universities to ensure continuous education; co-founder and first director of the Learning Research and Development Center (1963-1965); associate provost (1968-1971); appointment as dean of the Division of Instructional Experimentation (1968); appointment as the first and only "Professor at Large" at the University, enabling him to teach in any department on any subject he chose, and dean of General Studies (1971-1983). Gow also co-founded the University External Studies Program.

He cited his position as dean of General Studies as the best, most rewarding job at the University. Gow guided the growth and adaptability of the curriculum, introduced several new programs (administration of justice, legal studies, media communications, computer science and business accounting), and established a faculty council, a separate alumni group and a student organization. Wingard said her father loved the diversity and commitment of the non-traditional students he worked with as instructor, administrator and advocate.

Richard McDowell, president of Pitt's Bradford campus, praised Gow's efforts on behalf of non-traditional students. "Dean Gow intuitively comprehended the adult student movement into colleges and universities beginning in the 1970s," McDowell said. "He positioned the University of Pittsburgh, as the dean of the School of General Studies (now College of General Studies), to accommodate them. Thousands of students in the Pittsburgh market and hundreds in the Bradford region were able to complete degrees because of his leadership."

Psychology professor James Holland crossed paths with Gow during the contentious Vietnam War era, when Holland was an anti-war activist.

"Steele Gow was always the person who could listen, who could reason on tough issues," Holland said. "He was a real team person. He never seemed to operate with a lot of ego. He always listened to what people had to say. He was a mediator and a real good citizen at the University."

Wingard said the value her father placed on learning throughout life was manifested in retirement with his continued prolific reading on select topics until resources were exhausted and he was forced to select a new topic. The University Book Center became his greatest ally in search of resources on such topics as animal cognition, his most recent passion, she said

Gow was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Doris Trayon Gow. He is survived by three children, James Steele Gow III, Robin Gow Wingard and Donna Taylor; seven grandchildren; 11 great grandchildren; two brothers, Robert C. Gow and Don W. Gow, and two sisters in-law, Helen Trayon and Ramona Gow.

Following his wishes, there will be no funeral or visitation.

Memorial contributions may be made to the J. Steele Gow Scholarship Fund, c/o the University of Pittsburgh, Office of Institutional Advancement, 200 S. Craig St., Pittsburgh 15260.

Leave a Reply