University of New Mexico Regents’ Professor of History Ferenc “Frank” Szasz died Sunday, June 20, at the age of 70. A small service for family and university friends is set for Wednesday, June 30 at 1 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 2801 Lomas Blvd. NE (corner of Lomas and Girard).
A celebration of life service will take place at Rodey Hall in the UNM Center for the Arts, on Friday, Aug. 27 at 2 p.m.
Szasz joined the UNM Department of History in 1968 and earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester the following year.
Charlie Steen, chair of the history department, said, “Frank’s death leaves a vacuum that won’t be filled. He was both a point of reference and a soul of kindness.”
Szasz’s scholarship included American intellectual history, American religious history, religion in the American West, early atomic age, the “old” social and intellectual history, especially dealing with the impact of Scotland on the West.
He taught U.S. history survey courses, the history of World War II, and a number of undergraduate and graduate seminars. During the 1985–86 academic year Szasz was the Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, where, in addition to his university duties, he lectured extensively throughout Scotland, England and Wales.
In 1985 Szasz received an “Outstanding Teacher of the Year” award. In a press release Joel Jones, UNM administrative vice president, said, “Professor Szasz has been recognized for nearly two decades as that rare combination of both a superb lecturer working with large classes and as an exceedingly successful discussion leader working with seminars and smaller classes. He has a keen ability to make students at all levels feel as if they have indeed become social-intellectual historians themselves.”
“Over his 43 years of teaching he had more than 20,000 students,” said Margaret Connell-Szasz, his wife and colleague in the history department.
A prolific and accomplished writer, Szasz’s most popular title was “The Day the Sun Rose Twice: the story of the Trinity Site nuclear explosion.” He authored eight books total, edited or co-edited four others, and published nearly 90 scholarly and popular articles. He served as a manuscript reviewer for a number of academic journals and presses, as well as being a member of the editorial board for Journal of the West.
Szasz’s recent book, “Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends,” was published by Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. Szasz won the honor of delivering last year’s UNM Annual Research Lecture based on the book. It was a fitting year to honor Burns and Lincoln, with Jan. 25, 2009 being the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth and Feb. 12 being the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Szasz delivered a thoughtful lecture that honored the history and contributions of both men. Szasz discussed “Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns” in a podcast.
Friend and colleague Professor Emeritus Dick Etulain said, “I think he was the most important person in the history of the Department of History. Frank was a master at hallway seminars. When you would meet him – as colleague or grad student – had a word of encouragement and an interesting tidbit of gossip about the field.”
Etulain said that he and Szasz were both “lifetime fans” of Abraham Lincoln. Szasz encouraged Etulain to write “Lincoln and the American West.” Subsequently, Etulain encouraged Szasz to combine his interests. “To keep himself sane in the hospital he drafted a book on Lincoln and religion,” Etulain said. Connell-Szasz added, “Six weeks in the hospital was difficult, but he got dramatically excited about writing this manuscript.”
Szasz also has a manuscript, “Atomic Comics,” being published by the University of Nevada Press at Reno, tentatively scheduled for release in 2011; and the feature article on the comic strip Red Ryder in the upcoming July issue of the New Mexico Historical Review.
Szasz is survived by Connell-Szasz, daughter Chris Bradley, of Bellevue, Wash., son Eric Garretson, of Ojo Caliente, and daughter Maria Szasz, who teaches theatre history in the UNM Honors Program.
Media contact: Carolyn Gonzales, 277‑5920; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org