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July 23, 2015

Obituary: Edward Mason Anthony Jr.

anthonyProfessor emeritus of linguistics Edward Mason Anthony Jr., who died July 12, 2015, at age 92, is recalled by colleague and friend W. Richard Howe, associate dean for administration and planning in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, as a man who stepped easily into multiple responsibilities during a lengthy career.

“Ed Anthony’s recruitment to Pitt was driven by then-Provost Charles Peake’s interest in developing an international dimension,” Howe says. “Ed was recruited to be the director of the nascent English Language Institute (ELI) and by the time he arrived on campus, Sept. 1, 1964, he had also been appointed to be professor and the inaugural head of the Department of General Linguistics,” now linguistics.

Anthony earned all three of his degrees at the University of Michigan: a BA in German language and literature in 1944, an MA in English language and literature in 1946 and a PhD in linguistics in 1954. He joined Michigan’s English faculty as an instructor in 1945, moving up the ranks to become an associate professor while working with governmental and private organizations focused on education in foreign countries, such as the Peace Corps, USAID and the Ford Foundation.

He came to Pitt directly from Michigan.

Even in the midst of his development of a new Pitt institute and a new department in 1964 and following, Howe recalls, “Ed continued to roam the world in support of a variety of projects … He also spent two summers in Guadalajara (1964 and 1965). In 1966 he traveled around Southeast Asia as a consultant to the federal program that was charged with creating a regional English language center. That center was eventually located in Singapore and had a long and active life … With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, Ed created a teacher training program in three universities in Thailand. Ed recruited a team of five linguists and sent them and their families to live in Thailand from 1967 to 1971.”

Anthony was part of the group that founded what became the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), “an organization that continues to be an important player in today’s drive for the internationalization of higher education,” Howe says.

“In Ed’s spare time he began a program for teaching rarely taught languages and he created the University’s first language laboratory. These two arms of the Department of Linguistics continue to flourish to this day as the Less-Commonly-Taught Languages Center (LCTL) and the Robert Henderson Language Media Center.”

Anthony also served at various times as acting chair of the Department of German Language and Literature and of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, acting director and director of the Asian studies program and director of the Language and Culture Institute.

“I will remember Ed as a warm and gentle soul who had a remarkable career of building academic programs that have stood the test of 50 years,” Howe concludes. “He used language as a precision instrument to convey his learned opinions and his indomitable wit. Although the University bestowed the title of professor emeritus on Ed at the time of his retirement on Aug. 31, 1990, Ed preferred his self-anointed title of professor obsoletus of linguistics.”

Anthony’s academic honors and appointments, including two Fulbright lectureships, also took him to Afghanistan, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, the Philippines and China.

His son Ted’s remembrance of his father’s spirit and accomplishments echoes that of Edward Anthony’s colleagues:

“He was a pioneer in structural linguistics whose most-remembered work, ‘Approach, Method and Technique,’ is still used in some curricula today, 50 years later,” Ted Anthony says. “His two-volume book, ‘Foundations of Thai’ … was for many years one of the only English-language methods of teaching Thai.”

The younger Anthony recalls his father shepherding “uncounted” visiting Japanese executives who had come to Pittsburgh to learn English “and play softball and go to Pirate games.

“Probably most newsworthy, he and my mother were in the first group of University of Pittsburgh ‘foreign experts’ to be assigned to Beijing in 1979,” after leaders Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping normalized relations. “I accompanied them and went to a Chinese school. Former Pitt Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar visited us during that year.”

Anthony’s daughter, Lynn Higgins, also remembers their father bringing an international dimension to the family’s lives, as she spent her early years living with her family in an international student house at Michigan. “One of the biggest impacts his particular academic career had on me was making me international from the very beginning,” she says. Today, she is Frank J. Guarini Associate Dean of the Faculty for International Studies & Interdisciplinary Programs at Dartmouth College, while her brother Ted has long reported from Asia for the Associated Press.

“He was a teacher of teachers,” Higgins says of her father. “There are people all over the world who are grateful to him because he opened something for them — a career, a world view. He was very much involved in helping people find their path.”

She says her father’s two literature degrees also were a lifelong influence. “My relationship to him was very often around books … talking about language, how it bridges gaps between people.

“He taught me to think,” she adds: “We would argue about ideas, politics, linguistics. ‘No, I don’t think that’s the way you want to go,’ he’d say. ‘You’d make a better case if you took this point and ran with it.’”

When Ted Anthony would accompany his father to his office on the Cathedral’s 28th floor, his father “would occasionally insist that we walk up all 28 flights, just because.

“My father was one of the generation at Pitt who really looked at the campus as their field of play,” he says. “They didn’t restrict themselves to their departments or their disciplines. I think they had a sense that they had something to share with each other.”

His father also was known for composing a poem or parody song to honor colleagues who were leaving: “Anything that would allow him to play with language and connect with people.”

He loved a good trick, Ted Anthony says. Once, when heading the Asian studies program, the elder Anthony noticed his colleagues in Latin American studies next door surprising co-workers with a really old gag: a can labeled “nuts,” out of which popped a spring-loaded “snake.” One day Anthony substituted actual nuts for the snake. Then he walked over and pretended to notice the can for the first time, offering the snack to a Latin American studies colleague who already knew about the snake. “She held it out and jumped a little as she opened it and poured nuts all over the floor. It was a perfect practical joke. That was the way he very much wanted us to think. He wanted us to question convention. He wanted us to think critically.

“In some ways he was a very Zen person … He would tell us not to sweat the small stuff, and he would always find gentle humor in situations.

“Pitt was hugely important to my father,” he adds. He recalls taking his father to campus once a week when his Alzheimer’s disease symptoms first began, around 2008, for visits to colleagues and lunch at Hemingway’s or C.J. Barney’s. Once, when he got slightly lost, “he said: ‘If I don’t know this place, I don’t know anything.’ Pitt was a community for him as much as his family was.”

In addition to his son and daughter, Edward Anthony is survived by his wife, Ann; daughter Janice; and four grandchildren.

Contributions may be sent to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 22 Eighth Ave., 7th floor, New York, N.Y. 10001.

A public memorial service is being planned for September.

—Marty Levine    

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