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Lawrence Slifkin


1925 - 2019
Lawrence Slifkin Obituary
Lawrence Meyer Slifkin

September 25, 1925- December 2, 2019

Chapel Hill, NC

Lawrence Meyer Slifkin was born on September 29, 1925 in Bluefield, West Virginia to Isaac and Eva Baden Slifkin. He died on December 2 in Chapel Hill.

Larry lived with enthusiasm and passion. Growing up in Bluefield, even during the Depression, seemed to Larry to have been a dream childhood. Like most, his family had little material wealth during those years, but people in the town looked out for each other and for the town's children. Weekends and summers were spent hiking in the mountains- a passion Larry continued into old age.

Economic conditions forced the family to leave Bluefield when Larry was in high school. He entered NYU on a track and field scholarship, then was drafted out of college into the Army.

While in the military two important events would change the course of his life. Stationed in Alabama, he met Miriam Kresses at a local dance. The next day, Miriam's father, who knew nothing of their prior meeting and who routinely invited Jewish soldiers home for Sunday dinner, invited Larry. Four years later Miriam and Larry were married on July 4, 1948- a day they would call "interdependence day". They remained married for 71 years, until Larry's death.

The second important event was political, though to Larry, it was about simple fairness. Having been promoted to the rank of acting corporal Larry was assigned to a platoon of African-American troops. At that time, the military was racially segregated and different rules were in place for Black troops than for the White ones. White troops were given home leave before deployment. But, that was not necessarily the case for African-American troops.

As the training period for Larry's troops ended, the commanding general came to inspect the unit before deployment abroad. The general reviewing the troops asked Larry if all was satisfactory. In violation of military protocol Larry said "NO, SIR!" and he proceeded to demand leave for his men. The troops were given leave, but Larry was demoted and re-trained, delaying his deployment and sparing him combat. He arrived in Okinawa as part of the occupation force.

Following the war, Larry returned to graduate from NYU and enter Princeton University, obtaining a PhD in physical chemistry in 1950.

Together, Larry and Miriam raised four daughters- Anne, Rebecca, Merle and Naomi.

After faculty positions at the University of Illinois and University of Minnesota, the Slifkins moved to Chapel Hill in 1955. This move came early in Larry's career as Miriam could not tolerate the cold of the Midwest. Larry took a position in the Physics Department at UNC, established the nascent experimental physics program, and stayed until his retirement.

Larry was an active member of the UNC faculty, receiving continuing grant support for an ever-growing research program and teaching physics, for which he won a number of student-selected and university awards. He was also active in university affairs- serving as faculty advisor to the Fine Arts Committee and on the Faculty Athletics Committee. As a former college athlete, he raised concerns both about the corrupting influence of money in college sports and the time and travel pressures put on student-athletes. Unfortunately, little came of these efforts.

Larry also was involved in the community life of Chapel Hill and UNC- attending plays, lectures, concerts, art exhibits and playing trumpet in the University Orchestra. In the 1950s and 1960s he was involved in local politics. This was a time during which the civil rights movement was a part of life in Chapel Hill. One of the first graduate students accepted by Larry, in 1958, was perhaps the first African-American student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Although some questioned his judgment in making this decision, Larry's response was that the student was qualified. For many years he participated in Reverend Charlie Jones' non-violent picketing program, boycotted businesses and supported the desegregation of Chapel Hill Public Schools. From the 1970s Larry was also an active supporter of his wife's work in the feminist movement at UNC and in the community and state.

Being on the UNC faculty enabled Larry to take sabbaticals in Oxford, London, Paris and Tel Aviv. Along with Miriam he enjoyed international travel visiting much of Europe, Israel and Japan. Their joy in traveling continued into their late 80s.

Following retirement as a Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Larry began two "second careers". One was music. He played trumpet with multiple local bands including The Village Band, Triangle Jazz Ensemble, and the Magnolia Klezmer Band. In addition, he returned to school. As a science major in college, he never felt he had time for his love of literature. So for over 20 years he audited classes in the English department each semester. In 2011 he was invited to speak to graduates of the department at commencement- an honor he took very seriously. In recent years Larry and Miriam have lived at Carol Woods where they have been regulars at music concerts, films and lectures.

Larry was a devoted family man. Among the many ways he professed his love for Miriam included painting "Larry Loves Miriam" in bold letters on the sidewalk beside their home. While raising his daughters he read to them nightly and regularly engaged them in political and academic discussions. The family frequently went hiking and camping in the NC mountains. When his grandchildren were born, he made sure to be even more involved in their lives.

He is survived by his wife, Miriam; daughters Anne (Michael Freemark) of Durham, Rebecca (Richard Rosen) and Naomi (Glenn Withrow) of Chapel Hill and Merle (Neil Eisenstadt) of Ramat Yishai, Israel; grandchildren Samara (Ben), Ma'ayan (Raz), Lauren, Rebecca, Yonah (Daniel), Lochlin and Sarah and great-grandchildren Theodore, Emmeline, Rotem and Sha'ked.

It has been a life lived fully.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Inter-faith Council for Social Service, ifcweb.org or the Triangle Land Conservancy, triangleland.org.
Published in The News & Observer on Dec. 8, 2019
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