Charles M. Weiss, PhD
Charles M. Weiss, PhD, professor emeritus of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, passed away on Dec. 17. A resident of Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, NC, he had celebrated his 100th birthday with a party on Dec. 8. Weiss will be remembered for his quick wit, his love of travel, his pioneering scholarship in environmental science, and his generosity toward education, music and the arts.
Born Dec. 7, 1918, Weiss grew up in Newark, NJ, benefiting from his family's easy access to New York City's cultural and educational opportunities by becoming an early devotee of music and travel. His Dec. 8 party included a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, whose work he enjoyed, featuring compositions by Verdi, Rossini and Mozart.
After earning an undergraduate degree in bacteriology and limnology (the study of inland waters) from Rutgers University, he worked for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on their first U.S. Navy contract, a project to prevent barnacles from growing on ships' hulls and thus improve their speed during World War II.
After World War II, he earned a doctorate in sanitary engineering at Johns Hopkins University and worked at an organization that was the precursor to the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1956, he joined the faculty of UNC's fledgling department of sanitary engineering (now environmental sciences and engineering) and continued to teach there until 1989. While at UNC, he developed one of the first techniques to detect pesticides in water, mentored scores of graduate students and conducted research that led to the development of several Triangle (NC) area water supplies, including Jordan Lake.
Weiss was well partnered with his wife Shirley, whom he married in 1942. The two shared interests in academic pursuits, music, travel and the cultural life of cities. His own work promoting sanitary engineering abroad, and the work of Shirley Friedlander Weiss whose academic expertise was in urban planning, took them to six of the seven continents and countless cities around the world. Shirley Weiss, professor emerita of city and regional planning at UNC, died in 2010.
Together the Weisses were longtime supporters of education, music, and the arts. They supported 15 funds across the UNC campus – including for the Ackland Museum, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, the department of environmental sciences and engineering, and UNC Libraries – as well as an endowment for creativity in the arts at Duke University. The Weisses also supported music and arts organizations around the country, and in 2007 they were honored as Philanthropists of the Year by the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Particularly interested in nurturing young musicians, they established endowments to support young musicians at both the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle.
Perhaps the Weisses' proudest achievement was the establishment of the Weiss Urban Livability Fellowship. An interdisciplinary graduate fellowship at UNC, the WULF provides funding and an interdisciplinary environment in which new students can engage with issues related to urban living. The fellows consistently report that learning from students outside their own discipline is one of the most rewarding aspects of their time together.
"Dr. Weiss truly created a lasting legacy of investing in students and giving them the opportunity to improve the quality of life in communities around North Carolina and the world," said Barbara J. Turpin, PhD, professor and chair of the UNC environmental sciences and engineering department. "This year's Weiss Fellows are addressing important problems, such as characterization of wildfire emissions, effects of environmental exposures on the microbiome and exposure mapping. They continue his legacy by being at the forefront of sustainable, positive change in environmental research and policy."
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. at Carol Woods Retirement Community, 750 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill. A reception will follow.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the Weiss Urban Livability Fellows Program, c/o The Graduate School, 214 Bynum Hall, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-9862.
Published in The News and Observer on Jan. 7, 2019.