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February 5, 2004

Obituary: Dennison I. Rusinow

rusinowRetired Pitt research professor Dennison I. Rusinow died Jan. 20, 2004, after he was struck by a vehicle while walking near his home in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was 73.

An internationally known expert on Yugoslavia, Rusinow joined the Pitt faculty in 1988 as the first professor whose primary appointment was at the University Center for International Studies (UCIS). He also held an adjunct appointment as professor of history.

Following Rusinow’s retirement from Pitt in September 2000, he held the position of adjunct UCIS professor of East European studies.

Colleague and friend Bob Donnorummo remembers Rusinow as a brilliant researcher and a dedicated, always accessible teacher whose students ran the gamut from freshmen to graduate students.

“Whether it was helping with bibliographic resources or offering advice, Denny was very willing to drop everything to try and solve a student’s problem,” said Donnorummo, associate director of Pitt’s Center for Russian and East European Studies at UCIS. “It was quite a joy to watch his professional and compassionate sides come together in one human being.”

Rusinow’s office, next door to Donnorummo’s, was well-stocked with books, but also included pictures of European peasants on the walls. “It made you feel as if he was trying to investigate the deepest meaning of people’s lives,” Donnorummo said. “There was a sense that here’s a man with a lot of books, but also a soul and a heart.”

Rusinow’s landmark book, “The Yugoslav Experiment, 1948-1974,” was published in 1977 and still is considered the seminal text on Yugoslavia’s history, Donnorummo added. “Since his death, I’ve already had many people say, ‘I never met him, but his scholarship in East European studies had a tremendous impact on me,’” Donnorummo said.

Eileen O’Malley, assistant director at the Center for Russian and East European Studies, had worked with Rusinow since 1994. “I adored Denny. He had a heart of gold,” she said. “I’m not an academic, and it meant a lot to me that he treated me as an equal. No question was a dumb one to him.”

O’Malley said Rusinow’s courses were always packed, and he loved teaching them. “He had such a way with students; he was very popular. You could just feel it when you were around him. He was also very down-to-earth. He was so very smart, but he would do things like bring bags of recyclables every week from home to Pitt, because they didn’t have recycling where he lived.”

While at Pitt, Rusinow served as academic dean on three Semester at Sea voyages, fall 1991, spring 1996 and summer 2000.
Gordon MacLeod, emeritus professor of health services administration in the Graduate School of Public Health, remembers the 1996 voyage fondly. “Denny was an extraordinarily gracious and hospitable person, who went out of his way to welcome me as a faculty member for my first time on a Semester at Sea voyage,” MacLeod said. “Through our many interactions, we developed a close personal friendship.” Rusinow earned a B.A. in philosophy and history at Duke University, graduating first in his class in 1952. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, acted with the student theatre group and edited the school newspaper.

As a Rhodes scholar he earned a second B.A. (1954) from New College at Oxford University. He served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1958, then returned to New College to earn an M.A. in 1959.

In 1963 he earned a D.Phil. from St. Antony’s College at Oxford.

He also had a fellowship at the Institute of Current World Affairs, 1958-1963, studying in Vienna, Oxford and Belgrade.

From 1963 to 1988 he was an associate for Southeastern Europe, American Universities Field Staff (later called Universities Field Staff International), sending dispatches to scholars detailing what was happening overseas; he served as that organization’s associate director, 1973-1976.

In addition to 76 AUFS/UFSI reports published between 1963 and 1991, Rusinow was the author of five books and numerous contributions to collective works, journals and newspapers.

He was fluent in five languages and had interviewed leaders across Eastern Europe.

His specialty was ethnic nationalism in Yugoslavia, and he was an expert on Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s regime. He attended the dictator’s funeral in 1980.

Among his academic positions, Rusinow was adjunct professor of history at Dartmouth College, 1976; visiting lecturer in international affairs at California Institute of Technology, 1970; lecturer in Balkan and Italian studies at the Institute for Mediterranean Studies in Rome, 1969-1977, and adjunct assistant professor of history at Michigan State University, 1965.

In recent years, Rusinow could be heard on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Rusinow is survived by his wife, Mary of St. Petersburg; two daughters, Tamara, who resides in Mongolia, and Alison, who resides in Nigeria, and four grandchildren.

The family suggest that contributions be made to the Denny Rusinow Memorial Fund for financial assistance for prospective higher education students at: The Estate of Dennison Rusinow, c/o Mary Rusinow, 1065 Eden Isle Blvd. NE, Unit 3, St. Petersburg, Fla., 33704.

A memorial service will be held March 22 at 3:30 p.m. in Heinz Chapel.

—Peter Hart

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