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April 25, 1996

Mary E. Connor

Mary E. Connor, assistant to the director of the Center for Philosophy of Science, died April 15 in Allegheny General Hospital after a 16-month battle with esophageal cancer.

Through "sheer grit," Connor, 61, continued working until March 6, according to center director Gerald Massey.

Connor brought "not only exceptional ability but uncommon personal warmth and human decency to whatever she did," said Massey, who credited her for much of the center's success in recent years, especially in its international initiatives.

"She exerted herself tirelessly on behalf of the center's visiting fellows. There are now nearly 100 professors in two dozen countries who are indebted to Mary for her extraordinarily generous assistance and who are proud to have counted her as a friend," Massey said.

She joined Pitt in 1985 as secretary to the late Wilfrid Sellars, then University Professor of Philosophy at Pitt. Sellars once said that Connor "was to secretaries what Napoleon was to generals." When ill health forced Sellars to retire, Connor worked for several years as a senior secretary in the philosophy department before becoming the administrative secretary of the Center for Philosophy of Science in 1989. In 1992, she was named assistant to the director.

At her funeral mass last week, Massey said that Connor had three great passions: her family, her work, and politics. From 1960 to 1967, she was administrative assistant to Allegheny County Commissioner William McClelland. In that job, Connor played an "indispensable" behind-the-scenes role in creating the Community College of Allegheny County, Three Rivers Stadium and the Port Authority Transit system, Massey said. Massey cited two examples of her communications "wizardry" and "extraordinary talent for getting things done." "In 1990, the center put on a special conference and banquet to honor Mary's dear friend, [Mellon Professor of Philosophy] Adolf GrĊ¸nbaum, whose obsession with mail is known worldwide. Mary came up with the novel idea of getting the Postmaster General of the United States to make Adolf an honorary U.S. postmaster. She reasoned that, if the state of Kentucky could make honorary colonels, surely the U.S. Postal Service could make honorary U.S. postmasters. The Postmaster General of the United States proved no more able to resist Mary's persuasive powers than anyone else, and so, through Mary, Adolf became the first, and to this day the only, honorary United States postmaster." The other example involved Massey. "Mary informed me that, in her opinion, I deserved promotion to Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy and that she was going to see to it that the promotion was made. Ignoring my pleas that I did not deserve the promotion, she set out to effect it, and — to my surprise and, of course, pleasure — somehow or other succeeded." Surviving are her husband, Earl; daughters Kathleen, Kristine and Karen; and brothers Alfred and John Ney.

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