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January 11, 2007

Obituary: Frederick C. Thayer

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs emeritus professor Frederick C. Thayer died Dec. 23, 2006, following a stroke. He was 82.

Thayer graduated in 1945 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and during his 24-year military career in the Army and Air Force completed a master’s degree in political science at Ohio State University in 1954 before earning his PhD at the University of Denver in 1963.

He retired as an Air Force colonel in 1969 and came to Pitt as an associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 1983 and was awarded emeritus status in 1989. For the next decade, he continued teaching at other schools including Troy State, George Washington and Southern universities.

“He was an icon in the public administration field,” said GSPIA colleague Donald Goldstein, noting that a number of his students have gone on to positions in local government and that his classes typically were full. “Whether you agreed with him or not, you had to think. He was a damn good teacher.”

Thayer also was known as a prolific letter writer. “He probably drove the editors nuts Downtown,” said Goldstein, recalling Thayer’s perpetual stream of letters to the editors of local publications and memos to colleagues on a wide range of issues.

“His life was teaching and writing letters to the editor,” Goldstein said. “He was a provocateur and a good one.”

Often more direct than diplomatic, Thayer spoke up on issues that concerned him, and usually was right, Goldstein recalled.

Colleague William Dunn agreed that Thayer “was very much an iconoclast as a professional and a person,” adding that he had on occasion been described as the “H.L. Mencken of public administration.”

He also had another side, as a guiding influence for young faculty and doctoral students, Dunn said. “When I arrived at Pitt as a young assistant professor without tenure, he was very nice, kind and helpful to me.”

As a social critic and critic of bureaucracies, Thayer applied the principles he spoke about in class to his interactions with colleagues, in the community and with University administrators, Dunn said.

“He was by no means a hypocrite or inconsistent in his beliefs. If he offered a critique of some business function, he also applied it to the University of Pittsburgh, to GSPIA, to the administration.He didn’t spare anyone.”

While Thayer rubbed some people the wrong way, he was a brilliant questioner, Dunn noted. “Some of us came to find Fred as somebody who asked very good questions, questions other people didn’t think to ask.”

Surviving are his wife, Carolyn Easley Thayer, son Jeffrey L. Thayer, daughter Sarah Thayer Schneider, son-in-law Paul Schneider and a grandson, Jordan Thayer Schneider.

Memorial contributions may be made to Family Hospice and Palliative Care, 50 Moffett Street, Pittsburgh 15243.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 9

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