Richard L. Siegel
(October 21, 1940 - December 16, 2020)
Richard Siegel left legacies of commitment to human and civil rights, the creation and growth of multiple organizations, memorable teaching, and a family that includes two sons and a daughter as well as seven grandchildren.
For fifty years, he worked to make the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nevada an increasingly strong force for the protection of civil liberties and rights. He simultaneously pursued a long career at the University of Nevada, Reno. He remained dedicated to the causes of academic freedom and human rights, and the stimulation of the minds of thousands of political science and other students.
His work with the ACLU of Nevada started in his twenties and continued through his late seventies. In that organization's first years he joined Elmer Rusco and Hazel Erskine to provide necessary initial leadership. Rich continued to serve the state ACLU as a volunteer in almost all capacities, but particularly as a legislative lobbyist and public spokesperson. He recalled exciting moments of change in Nevada law that the Nevada ACLU helped make possible, including breakthroughs in women's and LGBT rights, free expression, and the beginnings of the state's retreat from mass incarceration.
At critical junctures, Rich helped devise ways for the ACLU of Nevada to overcome challenges and go on to reach greater heights. For much of his half century with ACLU of Nevada he served as state board president or Northern Nevada chairperson. The organization twice honored him with lifetime achievement awards, and his work also was acknowledged by the Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP.
While Nevada benefited most from his efforts, his life journey included service on the ACLU National Board of Directors as well as research fellowships at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Columbia University and the New York University School of Law. He also contributed to American Association for the Advancement of Science and United Nations human rights initiatives.
For the national ACLU, Rich pioneered efforts to establish public education programs and helped introduce global human rights concerns to the expanding agenda of the organization.
Rich's passions included public speaking and the advancement of numerous organizations concerned with education, law and politics. In his later years, he worked to advance Reno's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) as a place for continuing education available to all the area's older residents. He also left his stamp on such other organizations as The Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty, the Nevada Faculty Alliance, the Nevada Committee on Foreign Relations, the Northern Nevada International Center, Nevada's Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice, the Education Alliance of Northern Nevada, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
When asked about his passions, he often mentioned his pride in and love of his family, the opportunities he had to discuss issues with hundreds of foreign visitors brought to Reno by the Northern Nevada International Center (and on their overseas turfs), teaching and public speaking, and trying to advance Nevada laws and policies. From the time he arrived in Reno in 1965, he rarely passed up an invitation to speak to an audience in Nevada or abroad about what he cared about most. After his formal retirement from UNR in 2004, he continued to teach International Human Rights for its Honors Program for fourteen years.
Rich's roots were in Brooklyn, New York, where he cut his teeth on civil rights as a passionate fan of Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodgers. His father, Sam, was a manufacturer in New York's garment district and both of his parents (mother Clara) were strong role models as leaders of their synagogue and in various other organizations.
His most formative experience as a young person was at Brandeis University, where he was introduced to intellectual thought and human rights and met Joan, his first wife and mother of his children. He often spoke about the Brandeis class on The United Nations and Human Rights that he took from Eleanor Roosevelt in 1960, this perhaps the only college course taught by that First Lady.
His path to a career as a professor continued at Columbia University, where he committed himself to a career as a specialist on the Soviet Union and the Cold War. This part of his life included courses and mentoring from such eminent scholars as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alexander Dallin.
Rich was initially hired at UNR for a position in Soviet studies. Halfway through his fifty years at the University of Nevada, Reno, however, he followed a stronger passion for international human rights, making that his primary teaching and research field. This field brought together his long-term interests in civil liberties and international relations.
Rich is survived by his children (Naomi Siegel Morse, Daniel Siegel, and Jordan Siegel), son-in-law Rick Morse, daughter-in-law Traci Siegel, seven grandchildren (Rachel, Sam, Noah, Max, Tom, Isaac and Maya), his brother William Siegel and sister Roberta Valins.
A virtual memorial service to celebrate his life will take place on January 10, 2021, at 2pm PST. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org, and a Zoom link will be sent before the event.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the ACLU of Nevada (aclunv.org
) or the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI, olli.unr.edu