Linda Penkower, associate professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, died Feb. 27, 2018, after a long battle with cancer.
Joseph S. Alter, director of the Asian Studies Center, memorialized her as “a valued and beloved colleague whose energetic, enthusiastic and broad contribution to Asian studies will be sorely missed.”
Penkower earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the State University of New York-Buffalo in 1972, and received her other degrees from Columbia University — an M.A. in 1977, M.Phil. in 1992 and Ph.D. in 1993. Scholarships, including two Fulbright-Hays fellowships, and visiting faculty appointments allowed her to undertake extensive scholarship in Japan and China through 2004.
She taught at New York University and the University of Colorado-Boulder before joining Pitt in 1991. During her tenure at Pitt, she received numerous awards and grants, including several National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, and served on the University Senate’s tenure and academic freedom committee.
Penkower’s work focused on medieval Chinese and Japanese Buddhist history as well as modern East Asian popular religion. Among her most recent publications was the book “Hindu Rituals at the Margins: Innovations, Transformations, Reconsiderations,” 2014, which she co-edited.
“She was a fighter — clearly,” said Adam Shear, her departmental colleague since 2001 and currently acting chair. He noted that, following a cancer diagnosis nine years ago, Penkower was teaching the demanding senior capstone seminar as recently as last fall.
“She was so dedicated to mentoring the work of young scholars,” Shear recalled. “She kept on being a relentless advocate for the department, and a wonderful mentor for the faculty in the department, especially the junior faculty.”
Shear said that during her 11 years as religious studies chair, among the 11 department faculty, Penkower brought three junior faculty members to tenure, hired two assistant professors and a new lecturer and worked to get lecturers promoted — “all the while being a mentor to graduate students,” he added.
Shear was particularly struck by Penkower’s ability to teach a seminar for undergraduates and graduate students on death and the afterlife in the Buddhist tradition. “She’s teaching this seminar while she is facing this real health crisis — and kept it to herself,” he said. “I really admired her teaching this class on this topic that must have weighed personally on her mind. She was also very optimistic about being able to beat the disease.”
He recalled his last conversation with her: “‘Let’s talk about what I’m going to be teaching next fall,’ she said. She wasn’t going to say, ‘I’m going to give up’ until the end.”
She is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Sheila and Bruce Post, as well as nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations should be directed to the GCS Project, which aims to find a cure for gynecological carcinosarcoma, at thegcsproject.org.
A memorial service for the Pitt community is set for March 18, 1 p.m. in the second-floor Alcoa Room of the School of Law, with the gathering beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Edward Gerjuoy, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, died Jan. 31, 2018, at 99 following a long and varied career as a theoretical physicist, environmental lawyer and human rights activist.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Gerjuoy studied quantum mechanics at the University of California-Berkeley under Robert Oppenheimer (known as “father of the atomic bomb”), earning his Ph.D. in 1941. Not wishing to be involved in Oppenheimer’s atomic weapons research, Gerjuoy chose to work in a shipyard during World War II and then moved to New London, Connecticut, to research new Navy sonar technology. He helped develop anti-submarine strategies for Allied destroyers.
He joined the University of Southern California faculty in 1946, then discovered Pittsburgh during the summer of 1952, when he worked at Westinghouse Laboratory. That fall, he became a University of Pittsburgh faculty member.
After a stint back in industry beginning in 1958 — at the General Atomics Laboratory in San Diego and RCA Labs in Princeton, working on plasma physics — Gerjuoy returned to Pitt as a full professor in 1964. He researched nonrelativistic collision theory and electron-atom collisions through the early 1970s.
After spending a sabbatical year in 1974 as a first-year law student at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, he enrolled in Pitt’s School of Law and graduated in 1977. He was appointed to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board by Gov. Richard Thornburgh in 1981 and served until 1987. Gerjuoy was editor-in-chief of the American Bar Association’s Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science, and Technology for six years, published a number of legal papers concerning the qualifications of scientific expert witnesses and worked on environmental law cases for the Pittsburgh law firm Rose Schmidt, 1987 to 2002.
Gerjuoy was also involved with several prominent human rights cases, including serving on the defense team for Los Alamos employee Wen Ho Lee, who had been accused of espionage.
Physics and astronomy department chair Arthur B. Kosowsky noted that Gerjuoy’s contributions to their field continued long after his retirement. Starting in 2002, when he was named emeritus professor, Gerjuoy began his sixth decade of research by investigating the theory of quantum computing. One of his last articles, “Memories of Julian Schwinger,” concerning his former classmate, a Nobel Prize winner, appeared in the Asian Journal of Physics in 2014.
Professor Emeritus Ezra “Ted” Newman recalled his longtime departmental colleague as “the sweetest cantankerous person I’ve known” and “bigger than life.”
“He was one of the most fascinating characters I have ever known,” Newman said. “He had many, many moods, but Ed was an extraordinarily decent person. He was always for the downtrodden.”
Newman also noted that Gerjuoy was the first to welcome him to Pitt by inviting Newman to his home: “It was very, very lovely. I’ve had a good time with Ed for 60 years.”
Gerjuoy was married for 65 years to the late Jacqueline Reid, and is survived by sons Neil and Leif.