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Professor Emeritus Stewart Thau dies after brief illness at age 69

May 15, 2008

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SU News Services

Professor Emeritus Stewart Thau, who retired from Syracuse University in 2006 after 40 years of service, died May 13 following a brief illness. He was 69 years old. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, May 20, at 3 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel. A reception will follow in Room 500 of the Hall of Languages.

Thau was chair of the Department of Philosophy in The College of Arts and Sciences for 25 years and associate dean for curriculum, instruction and programs for eight years (1995-2003). Friends and colleagues remember Thau for his warmth, engaging personality, intrinsic goodness and profound commitment to the University and greater Syracuse communities. His philosophy department colleagues fondly refer to Thau as "The Chair."

"In his 40 years at SU, Stewart worked tirelessly for the good of the philosophy department, The College of Arts and Sciences and the University," says Robert Van Gulick, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy. "He was a person of boundless, positive energy and good will. He touched the lives of all of us for the better. We will cherish his memory."

In 1988, Thau received the Chancellor's Citation for Distinguished Service for his visionary leadership of the department and many contributions to the community. His colleagues say it was an award Thau especially cherished.

"We convey our deepest condolences to Stewart's daughters and to his extended family," says Dean Cathryn R. Newton. "Stewart cared deeply not only about the department, but also about the people he interacted with every day. He rebuilt the department from one that was struggling to one of international prominence. As associate dean, his gentle, patient leadership helped bring the new Liberal Arts Core into full implementation. There just will not ever be anyone else like Stewart."

Upon taking the departmental helm in 1973, Thau was determined that the philosophy program at SU would flourish. He recruited distinguished faculty and supported the teaching and research of the existing faculty. Among the scholars he recruited were Professor Emeritus Jonathan Bennett, a renowned historian of philosophy and philosopher of language and metaphysics, and Professor Emeritus William P. Alston, distinguished epistemologist and one of the core figures in the late 20th-century revival of the philosophy of religion.

"Stewart was someone with a notably clear head, a clear view of the department's needs, and above all a clear soul," Bennett says. "His personal excellence was reinforced by the shining excellence of his wife, Cathy (who died Feb. 21, 2008, at the age of 65), and of the marriage between them. Stewart and Cathy Thau were a large part of my reason for coming to Syracuse in 1979."

Former SU faculty member Peter van Inwagen, the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, fondly recalls Thau's exemplary leadership as department chair. "Stewart was a wonderful chairman," van Inwagen says. "I never was so happy under any chairman as I had been under him. He was a good man and a good friend."

An authority in the philosophy of language, Thau focused his research on the nature of meaning and speech acts. He joined the faculty in 1966 as a lecturer and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1969. He served as departmental chair from 1973-95 and from 2002 until his retirement in 2006. He was a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Council from 1976-87 and served four terms as council chair. Thau was a member of the University Senate for 26 years and served on a number of the senate's major committees.

In addition to chairing the University's United Way Campaign, Thau was a member of the United Way of Central New York from 1984-92 and served on the board of directors of the United Cerebral Palsy and Handicapped Children's Association of Syracuse (Enable) from 1975-85 and was president of the association from 1980-82.

Thau is survived by two daughters, Stephanie Anderson of Richmond, Va., and Jennifer Thau of Syracuse; two grandchildren, Isabelle and Simon Anderson of Richmond, Va; and a brother, August "Bernie" Thau of Lookout Mountain, Tenn.

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