College and Wharton professor emeritus William M. Evan died of kidney failure Dec. 25 at the age of 87.
Evan taught sociology and management at the University for over 50 years. He received his bachelor’s degree from Penn in 1946.
Evan first came to Philadelphia as a teaching assistant under renowned Penn linguist Zellig Harris. Evan viewed language as a tool for resolving conflict, believing that people of different cultures should learn each other’s languages.
Holding himself to that standard, he and Zellig taught Arabic to servicemen during World War II.
At Penn, “my father discovered his own passions and interests that would continue throughout his life,” his daughter Raima Evan said, explaining his close relationship with the University.
As an immigrant from Poland, Evan saw the University community as a way to integrate into American society.
“Penn was deeply embedded in his early sense of self,” Raima said.
Although he dedicated the majority of his career to Penn, Evan also taught at Princeton and Columbia Universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Evan was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the London School of Economics and earned a doctorate in sociology from Cornell University.
He authored more than 100 articles for professional journals and edited or authored 15 books, writing often about nuclear disarmament and the Middle East.
Evan maintained an office in the McNeil Building into his 80s where he met with students and avidly followed current events.
“He saw newspapers as a way to educate so many people who didn’t have access to university or college opportunities,” Raima said.
As a lover of music, Evan wrote lyrics about peace between Israelis and Palestinians for folk singer Pete Seeger. Seeger wrote a melody and named the song “Breakdown.”
A lifelong believer in learning, Evan elected to have his body given to the Penn School of Medicine for research.
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