BY JIA-RUI CHONG
John D. Wirth, 66, the Gildred Professor of Latin American Studies, died June 20 in Toronto. The Santa Fe, N.M. and Atherton, Calif., resident suffered a heart aneurysm while delivering a lecture to the Friends of Fort Polk, a Canadian historical society.
Wirth earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1958 and a doctorate in Latin American history in 1967 from Stanford. His first book, The Politics of Brazilian Development, 1930-1954 , won the Bolton Prize in 1971 and his second, Minas Gerais in the Brazilian Federation, 1889-1937, won an honorable mention in 1978.
"This is the most enduring of his scholarly work. It is a permanent part of the historiography of Brazil," Professor of Political Science Robert Packenham, a friend and colleague, said.
Wirth cultivated a wide range of interests during his scholarly career. His research included examinations of Inca and Aztec states, urban growth in Manchester and São Paulo, and Pan-American environmental politics. David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, praised Wirth as an "extremely versatile" historian who was impressively developing a new area of expertise on Canada. Wirth, who had retired from Stanford earlier this month, had most recently turned his attention to the complex relationships between Canada, the United States and Mexico. He co-founded the North American Institute in Santa Fe and was serving as its president.
Kennedy, who joined the faculty the same year as Wirth, remembers his friend fondly as "one of the most can-do people" he has ever met. "He was a congenital optimist. Defeat was not in his vocabulary," Kennedy said.
Wirth, who was born in Dawson, N.M., also developed a deep affection for the northern New Mexico region. His newest book -- soon to be published by the University of New Mexico Press -- tells the story of the Los Alamos Ranch School, which was displaced during the war in efforts to build the nuclear bomb. Wirth was an avid outdoorsman who loved fly-fishing and taking care of their family land, said Peter Wirth, his eldest son. "He was always planting Ponderosa pines -- hundreds of them -- around the house and on the land, to replace the ones cut for firewood years ago.
"He was a real enthusiast," his son added. "When he would have an idea -- whether it was a new history project or a new fish fly -- he would lead the charge."
Wirth is survived by his wife, Nancy Meem Wirth, and sons Peter, Nicholas and Timothy. Nancy, Peter and Nicholas live in Santa Fe. Timothy lives in San Francisco. A brother, Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. senator who is now president of the United Nations Foundation, lives in Washington, D.C. Wirth is also survived by half-brother John Wiebenson of Washington, D.C., and sisters Carla Henebry of Denver and Mary Gilland of Seattle.
memorial service was held June 27 at Holy Faith Episcopal Church in
Santa Fe. Contributions in Wirth's name may be sent to the North
American Institute, 708 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe, NM 87501; or
the Putney School, Elm Lea Farm, Putney, VT 05346.
John D. Wirth
Stanford Report, July 10, 2002