Walter M. Widrig
Walter M. Widrig, Professor Emeritus at Rice University and longtime Houston resident, died on July 28, 2019. He was born in Green Bay, WI on May 28, 1929. Dr. Widrig is survived by his sister, Mary John Sullivan (husband – Bob) of Palm Beach Gardens, FL and his nephew, Richard C. John (wife - Carolyn) of Wheaton, IL., two grandnieces and a grandnephew, Cassie, Meredith and Yuri, respectively, and two great-grandnephews and a great-grandniece. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Professor Widrig was a teacher and field archaeologist. He came to archaeology by a somewhat circuitous route. His undergraduate pursuit was International Relations at Yale University (B.A. 1951). After Army service during the Korean War, he completed a degree in International Law at Columbia University in New York (M.A. 1956). Then an about face occurred when he began a Ph.D. in Art History and Archaeology at the Institute of Fine Arts and Archaeology of New York University (Ph.D. 1975).
Dr. Widrig taught at Wellesley College, Rutgers University and the University of St. Thomas prior to joining the faculty of Rice University in Houston in 1969, where he retired in 2000, after 31 years. At Rutgers he was founder of their Art Gallery and the first curator of the University's art collection. He came to Houston in 1967, under the auspices of Jean and Dominique de Menil, to curate the St. Thomas Teaching Collection. However, his archaeological work, begun ten years earlier in Rome, England, Libya and Southern Italy, soon took over from his gallery interests.
Dr. Widrig's initial archaeological field experience was working with Richard Krautheimer (the author of the Corpus of Early Roman Churches) in 1957. Digging was in the Verano Cemetery of Rome with the goal of finding the foundations of the 4th century Basilica Maior of San Lorenzo; then an attempt to establish the original plan, again Constantinian, of the Lateran Cathedral. Widrig went on to collaborate with Richard Goodchild (the Director of Antiquities of Cyrenaica in Libya) in the excavation of the West Church of Apollonia, and, independently, of two basilica churches at Latrun (all three churches are published in the Papers of the British School at Rome). For two summers Dr. Widrig was the Site Supervisor at the San Rocco, Francolise, villa excavation outside of Capua conducted by John Ward Perkins, Director of the British School at Rome, and Peter von Blanckenhagen of New York University. In 1975, a summer was spent as co-director with Joseph Carter excavating at Metaponto in Southern Italy. A private concession was given to Dr. Widrig for the Via Gabina Project, outside of Rome, in 1976; fourteen seasons of digging followed. The results of the excavation are published online at http://viagabina.rice.edu
In 1959, Dr. Widrig received a two-year Fulbright grant for archaeological research in Rome. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, England's oldest academic society, in 1981. Dr. Widrig frequently lectured on archaeology and art history both in the U.S. and abroad, including at the Society of Antiquaries in London and at Cambridge University, England. Later in the 1980's, he was elected trustee of the American Schools of Oriental Research. He also served five terms as a board member of the Houston Philosophical Society. In 2010, Dr. Widrig was awarded the Star of Italian Solidarity by the President of the Republic of Italy, a decoration which bestowed the Italian title of "Cavaliere". In 2015, he received a Meritorious Service Award from Rice University.