1932 - 2013
Peter Baer Gontrum, professor emeritus, University of Oregon, died May 24 of pneumonia. He was 81.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on February 13, 1932, Peter was the only child of Mildred Baer, a nurse, and Edwin K. Gontrum, a lawyer. He attended Friends School in Baltimore, relishing all aspects of his school life, but particularly loved sports. It was at Friends School that he discovered football, lacrosse, and basketball, which in his later life evolved into a loyalty to the former Baltimore Colts and the Orioles. He took pleasure in remembering that he was named to the "All Maryland" lacrosse team for high school in 1950.
After Friends School, Peter attended Haverford College near Philadelphia where he became interested in German language and literature. Following graduation from Haverford, he went on to receive an MA from Princeton University in German and French literature. During the summer of 1954, aboard a student transport ship headed to Europe, he met his future wife Margaret Martin Dandy, also of Baltimore, and at that time, a junior at Wellesley College. While listening to the recordings of Bach's B Minor Mass crossing the Atlantic, they discovered they shared a love of Bach, Mozart, and European literature, which enriched their subsequent 59 years together. Soon after marriage in 1956, Peter and Maggie moved to Munich where Peter enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Munich. Peter completed his dissertation on the German/Swiss novelist and poet Hermann Hesse in 1958.
Upon return to the U.S., Peter first joined the faculty at the University of Chicago in 1959 and then in 1961 moved to the University of Oregon. He received several Humboldt grants to study the writers Max Frisch, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, and Rainer Maria Rilke and received the University of Oregon's Ersted Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1969. In 1974, he was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to conduct research in Germany.
Although he endured the health challenges of MS in his later years, Peter continued to teach until 1994. Peter was a born teacher; he loved sitting around a seminar table exchanging ideas with his students. He loved his family, listening to the music of the Bach Festival and the Mozart Players, meeting old friends and discovering new ones, immersing himself in Oregon's streams, cold lakes, and the Eugene YMCA pool. All who met him were left with the feeling of being appreciated and understood. In his last year at Fox Hollow Residential Care, his life was enriched by thoughtful and loving caregivers who could laugh with him and recognize the warmth in one another.
Survivors include his wife, Margaret, two daughters, Catherine Tibbitts of Eugene and Elsa Gontrum of Atherton, California, a son, David Gontrum of Salt Lake City, and seven grandchildren.
Arrangements by Musgrove Family Mortuary in Eugene. A private memorial will be planned for later in the summer. Please use the Legacy.com link to leave condolences for the family.
Published in Eugene Register-Guard on June 2, 2013