Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paul E. Sigmund (1929-2014)

Late last night, I learned of the death of one of my academic mentors, Princeton Professor Paul E. Sigmund. Paul was the Director of graduate Studies in the Politics Department when I arrived at Princeton in 1972 as an idealistic graduate student. In fact, he was the first faculty member I met, when I took the bus there one summer day in 1972 to get a better sense of what exactly I was getting myself into that fall. He was a great professor, a helpful adviser, and in time a good friend. I last saw him about 10 years ago, when I visited the University shortly before his retirement.
By the time our paths crossed in those tumultuous early 1970s, Paul had already been living an interesting and accomplished life. Born in Philadelphia, he had been an undergraduate at Georgetown, then studied for a year the University of Durham on a Fulbright, before going to graduate school at Harvard, where he got his Ph.D. His doctoral dissertation was published as Nicholas of Cusa and Medieval Political Thought. Meanwhile, in the 1950s, he had also served as a political analyst for the Air Force at Wiesbaden, Germany. He started teaching at Princeton in 1963. He was married to Barbara Boggs, daughter of Democratic Congressman Hale Boggs of Louisiana (who died tragically during my first semester at Princeton) and his wife Lindy, who replaced him in Congress and eventually served as Ambassador to the Holy See. Paul and Barbara were a wonderful couple, who contributed greatly to the life of the Princeton community, where Barbara was mayor from 1984 until her death (at only 51) in 1990.
Academically, Paul had two main areas of expertise - political philosophy (particularly medieval political thought) and Latin American politics. He was the author of The Ideologies of the Developing Nations (1963), Natural Law in Political Thought (1971), The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1974-1976 (1977), and Liberation Theology at the Crossroads (1990). He also edited the Norton Critical Edition St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics (1987).

Paul was a very down-to-earth academic and an easily approachable person. In March 1974, a group of us graduate students invited him to dinner at the Graduate College to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the death of Thomas Aquinas. I remember we bought Chilean wine for the occasion! When I passed my General Examination that May, some classmates held an impromptu party in a friend's apartment on Nassau Street, which Barbara Sigmund showed up at. Paul encouraged me to teach and was instrumental in my getting interviewed for my first (and only) full-time academic job at Marquette University in 1977. 

Paul was a life-long devout Catholic, whose career corresponded chronologically to the multiple stresses and challenges which faced the Catholic Church in the second half of the 20th century. His academic work in medieval political thought and in the contemporary politics of Latin America  well equipped him to understand and navigate through those stresses and challenges. Regrettably, I will be unable to get to Princeton for his funeral Mass this Friday. But I will certainly be remembering him at Mass here.

Requiescat in pace!

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