Hugo Bedau

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Hugo Adam Bedau, the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, at Tufts University and an internationally known leader in the struggle to abolish capital punishment, died on August 13. He was 85. The cause was complications related to Parkinsons disease. Professor Bedau had lived in Concord and surrounding towns since 1966 when he joined the Tufts faculty, hired explicitly to rebuild the philosophy department. That he did with great success. Current department chair, Erin Kelly, says that "his signature approach as department chair and colleague was highly democratic and transparent." He retired in 1999. Prior to his appointment at Tufts, Hugo Bedau was on the faculty of Dartmouth College, Princeton University, and Reed College. He taught the full range of philosophy courses; his specialties were political, social, and legal philosophy. A pioneer in applied ethics (using philosophy as a practical tool in the real world), he is best known for his long-standing interest in issues having to do with punishment in general and the death penalty in particular. Professor William Schabas of Middlesex University in England has called him "one of the great scholars of capital punishment." Hugo testified against the death penalty before the U.S. Congress, and he wrote for newspapers, magazines, and numerous law journals as well as for academic presses. In 1964 he first edited and published what quickly became the standard work on capital punishment, The Death Penalty in America (4th edition, 1997). He contributed to, edited, and wrote many other books, including three volumes of his own essays (1977, 1987, and 2004). With Professor Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado and Constance Putnam he wrote In Spite of Innocence (1992), the first in what has become a veritable library of books exploring the deadly potential of capital punishment being inflicted on innocent people. Among his many awards, Professor Bedau was elected the Romanell|Phi Beta Kappa Professor of Philosophy in 1994. His three Romanell lectures were published by Oxford University Press (1997), under the title Making Mortal Choices. A long-time (and founding) member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, he was honored more than once by that organization for his extraordinary service. The Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death established an award in his name, of which he was the first recipient (in 2001). His distinguished career as a scholar and public advocate included being an active member of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from the 1950s; in 2003 he received the Roger Baldwin Award from the ACLU of Massachusetts. A hallmark of Hugo's career was his work across disciplinary lines. In 1997, he received the August Vollmer Award from the American Society of Criminologyhardly an ordinary award for a philosopher. In addition to being a passionate advocate for justice, Hugo was a revered teacher and colleague. Former President of Tufts Lawrence Bacow said in an e-mail that "Hugo was an extraordinary teacher and scholar who was willing to venture outside the narrow realm of academic philosophy to try to use his scholarship to make the world a better place. [H]e represented the very best tradition of what we expect of a faculty member. He was held in the absolute highest esteem . He was a great university citizen. " Everyone who knew him speaks of his integrity and strong moral fiber. Student writing and critical thinking were of central concern to Professor Bedau, leading him to publish Thinking and Writing About Philosophy (1st ed., 1996; 2nd ed., 2002), and a widely used textbook co-authored with his Tufts English Department colleague Professor Sylvan Barnet, Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument (10th ed. forthcoming). Hugo Bedau is survived by his wife, medical historian Constance Putnam. Their professional interests overlapped in ways that enabled each to be the other's sharpest editorial critic. They loved swimming the length of Walden Pond and back; they ran in numerous 10K races. Avid travelers, they spent significant amounts of time in Europe, working on academic projects, hiking, and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Hugo is also survived by four children from a previous marriageLauren, Mark, Paul, and Guy (who recall especially their father's brilliance, his humor, and great Thanksgiving feasts in recent years); five grandchildren; two sisters, and his former wife, Jan Mastin. Hugos sharp thinking, unusual ability to bring clarity to the most abstruse matters, and radical sense of humor (from Monty Python to Tom Stoppard) will be missed by all who knew him. His love of music also ranged widelyfrom the Beatles to Beethoven to Klezmer to Ravel and Eric Bogle. He was a devoted Patriots' fan, loved theater, and read history avidly. A Celebration of Hugo Bedaus Life will be held on September 24 at 3:30pm on the Tufts campus, in the Coolidge Room of Ballou Hall. In lieu of flowers, family members invite those who wish to make a donation in Hugos name to choose an organization that Hugo admired, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Reed College, or Habitat for Humanity.

Published in The Concord Journal from Aug. 21 to Aug. 28, 2012
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