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Diane Manuel, News Service (650) 725-1945; e-mail:

Historian Lewis Spitz dead at age 77

Lewis W. Spitz, the first holder of the William R. Kenan Professorship in history, died on Dec. 22 of cardiac arrest at Stanford Medical Center. He was 77.

Spitz was a world-renowned expert on Martin Luther and a scholar of Renaissance and Reformation history. A former associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, he helped to develop the Western Culture program that was introduced in 1978.

Born in Bertrans, Neb., and raised in Concordia, Mo., Spitz earned his undergraduate degree from Concordia College, a master's degree from the University of Missouri, a Master of Divinity degree from Concordia Seminary and a doctorate from Harvard University. He also received honorary degrees from Valparaiso University, Wittenberg University, Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Concordia College in St. Paul, Minn.

Before coming to Stanford in 1961, Spitz had taught history at the University of Missouri from 1953 to 1959. He was a Fulbright Professor at the Institute for European History in Mainz, Germany, and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, and at Columbia University. He retired from teaching at Stanford in 1993.

Spitz' published works include The Religious Renaissance of the German Humanists, The Renaissance and Reformation Movements and The Protestant Reformation, 1517-1559. He also published Humanism and Reformation as Cultural Forces in German History, and was the author of 15 volumes and more than 80 book chapters.

Honored by Concordia Seminary for his contributions to the Lutheran church's Missouri Synod, Spitz maintained a religious view of life and saw teaching as a special vocation.

"Teaching has always seemed to me to be a most important and honorable vocation, both a healing and an invigorating cultural exchange between mentor and students," he wrote for Campus Report in 1991. "As for me, university teaching has enabled me to develop a career that coincides perfectly with my inner needs and goals in life, which have more to do with service than with ambition, more with love of people than with a wish to dominate, more with mind and spirit than with material things."

"Lew was a world-renowned scholar of the Reformation and a valued member of the Stanford community," colleague James Sheehan, the Dickason Professor in the Humanities, said.

Sheehan added that Spitz was legendary for his loyalty to his students, whose careers "he furthered with great energy and generosity."

One student middle linebacker Jeff Siemon, who played on the team that beat Michigan in the 1972 Rose Bowl and who went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League was so appreciative that he asked all of his teammates to sign a ball that they subsequently presented to Spitz.

Another former student recalled an undergraduate course in the history of the Renaissance that he took from Spitz in 1961.

"He was an unusually impressive figure and one of the most erudite people I've ever encountered, and he had a command of ancient languages and ancient texts that was phenomenal," David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, said.

"One of his practices was to quote, from memory, long excerpts from classical texts in Latin. I thought it was a powerful testimony to the depth of his learning and his commitment to make it evident, even to beginning students in history, that the things he was saying were based on well-considered documents that he thought had to be confronted in the original.

"There are very few people in this university with that kind of deep rootedness in classical texts," Kennedy adds. "He was a unique individual."

Spitz received the Harbison Award for outstanding college teaching from the Danforth Foundation in 1964. He was a pioneer in interdepartmental teaching and course planning, and was instrumental in developing a new freshman history sequence, for which he drafted the curriculum for the initial quarter in 1973.

Spitz held both Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships and was a senior fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, and a fellow of the Huntington Library.

He served for eight years as managing editor of the Archive for Reformation History, an international scholarly journal. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.

Spitz is survived by his wife of 51 years, Edna Huttenmaier Spitz, Ph.D.; his sister, Dorothy Rosin of St. Louis; sons Stephen Spitz of San Francisco and Philip Spitz of Fremont; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Bethany Lutheran Church in Menlo Park at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 15. A reception will be held at the Faculty Club immediately following the service.

Those wishing to make donations should send them to the Lewis W. Spitz Memorial Fund, Center for Reformation Research, 6477 San Bonita Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105.


By Diane Manuel

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