April 6, 1931 - August 7, 2018
Allan Kornberg, 87 – author, athlete, educator, political science savant – died on August 7 after a brief illness.
Al Kornberg was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to immigrant parents who'd fled the pogroms in eastern Europe. He spoke Yiddish at home, at least until he entered grade school, but his command of English was extraordinary, and his command of Shakespeare, whom he could (and would) quote on almost any occasion (whether asked to or not) was downright surreal.
He graduated from high school at 16, from college at 19, and before he was in his mid-20's, he had already enjoyed what many would consider to be a colorful, action-packed career.
In the 1950's, Al played professional football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He later coached his hometown high school football team to a provincial championship (twice), wrestling professionally in the off-season – as Krusher Kornberg – against many of the National Wrestling Alliance's most feared body-slammers, including Serbian Superstar Bronko Lubich and his crazed sidekick Aldo Bogni. He capped this all off in the early 1960's by somewhat dramatically changing course and entering graduate school at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Allan Kornberg left Michigan two years later with a Ph.D in Political Science.
Al loved the English language, but he was clearly a political scientist's political scientist, basking in data as though it were sunshine and getting excited about voting patterns the way that a Labrador Retriever gets excited about a game of fetch. He joined the faculty at Duke University in 1965 and shortly thereafter helped secure the largest social science grant that – up to then – had ever been awarded to the university.
Until he quit cold turkey decades later, Al smoked cigars that were as long as he was, and his laugh (or yell, depending on his mood) could be heard throughout much of Duke's Perkins Library, which the Political Science department at that time called home.
Al was a computer nerd long before computer nerds were cool. He was among the first at the table of the Triangle Universities Computation Center (TUCC), and at one of Duke's busiest TUCC outposts, he or one of his graduate students could often be seen loading stacks of Fortran-encoded punch cards into an IBM main-frame card reader roughly the size of Six Flags Over Georgia.
He could also often be seen, during summers, ferrying his kids to the Duke Faculty Club, where every July 4th he'd reclaim his title as the master of the larded watermelon, maneuvering it through throngs of frustrated opponents to the goal line on the other side of the pool, not making a big deal of his athletic prowess, but not making light of it either.
Al Kornberg's academic career had many highlights. Tenured at Duke after just a few years, he later served as the chairman of Duke's Political Science department and as Duke's faculty representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the 1990's he was appointed the first Director of Social, Behavioral and Economic Research for the National Science Foundation and, upon returning to Duke a few years later, was named the Norb B. Schaefer Professor of Political Science. In 2011, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award in Canadian Politics by the American Political Science Association.
Al Kornberg edited, authored and co-authored more acclaimed academic publications than any of his kids can remember. (As an aside, it should be noted that Al would probably say the writing here was wordy and digressive, but he would likely not dispute its overall accuracy, which ultimately was what mattered most to him.)
Allan Kornberg will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved him. He is survived by his brother Harvey and sister Molly; four children, Grant, Mindy, Lewis and Nata; four step-children, Kelly, Stephen, Neal and Patrick; seven grandchildren, Nathan, Ezra, Isabel, Sophie, Max, Matthew and Sarah; nine step-grandchildren, Ryan, Michaela, Connor, Stephen, Brendan, Hunter, Caitlin, Alexis, Cameron and Ashley; and his first wife Linda of Durham NC. He is pre-deceased by his sisters Ruth and Sylvia and by his second wife Patricia of Annapolis, MD. A memorial service will be held October 6th on the campus of Duke University in Durham, NC. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions in his honor be made to the Salvation Army (always near and dear to him), to the United Jewish Fund, and to the Allan Kornberg Scholarship Endowment Fund at Duke.
Published in & The News and Observer from Aug. 29 to Aug. 30, 2018.