Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, University of Texas professor emerita of comparative literature and Middle Eastern studies, died Tuesday at the age of 81 after a long illness.
Fernea, who was informally known as "B.J.," joined UT in 1975 as a senior lecturer and was chairwoman of the Women's Studies Program from 1980 to 1983. She retired from UT in 1999.
Fernea and her husband, Robert, a former director of the university's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, spent time in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco and lived in Egypt for eight years, where their three children were born. Fernea wrote three autobiographical books about her time in the Middle East: "Guests of the Sheik: An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village," "A View of the Nile" and "A Street in Marrakech."
"I think everyone thought revolution and so on would change everything,'' Fernea told the American-Statesman in 1997 about her first trip to the Middle East, in 1956. "But then, of course, it didn't."
Her scholarly books include "Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak," "In Search of Islamic Feminism: One Woman's Global Journey" and "Remembering Childhood in the Middle East: Memoirs from a Century of Change." Fernea also was a filmmaker, who earned two National Endowment for the Humanities grants. Her documentaries include "Reformers and Revolutionaries: Middle Eastern Women," "The Struggle for Peace: Israelis and Palestinians" and "The Road to Peace: Israelis and Palestinians."
"B.J. helped forge an international reputation for the university's Middle Eastern studies program," said Kamran Aghaie, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. "Her passion for women's issues in the Middle East was inspiring to all who knew her, and she will be fondly remembered as a friend and colleague."
Fernea is survived by her husband, her daughters Laura Ann and Laila and son David and several grandchildren. A memorial service will be held next week at St. Austin's Catholic Church.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from December 4 to December 15, 2008