In Memoriam: George Pickering

Highligher & Laureate, Summer 2002

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The following is a letter Dean John Staudenmaier, S.J., interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts, sent to colleagues at the University of Detroit Mercy.

On May 11, 2002, our College lost one of its best. George Pickering's wife Betty found George that morning after he had died in his sleep. As most of you know, George had decided that this [past] semester would be his last in the classroom. Ed DeWindt told me the day George died that George had intended, since he would no longer be teaching, to finish one book and begin another. He and Betty had planned to settle in at their home on the Cape.

George came to the University in 1970, and for all these 32 years he provoked students to think about demanding questions. Any of us who have been around for a while have heard students describe his teaching. He found ways to make college a place where curiosity about the human condition was rewarded and sloppy thinking challenged, a place where learning happened and where the rigors of serious thinking were supported by aggressive humor and an understated, compelling kindness. Like most of us teachers, I am sure George had favorites. But I never heard a story in my 20 years of teaching in the same building, that recorded George treating any student with less than deep respect. I will miss him a great deal and so will very many of us, faculty, staff and students.

On the Wednesday after graduation, nearly 200 friends came together in the courtyard and front parlors of the Jesuit Community on campus (Lansing Reilly Hall) to remember George and celebrate his life.

The gathering was hosted by the Department of Religious Studies, George's home department; President Maureen Fay, O.P.; and Gail Burnett, assistant to the president. With the help of good food and drink (and beautiful weather), former students, colleagues, family and friends told stories, laughing and crying as we reminded one another of this UDM institution.

The brothers of Phi Kappa Theta, for whom George served as faculty moderator for many years, conducted a service in the courtyard.

Theoretically, the gathering went from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m., but people stayed until after 10:00 p.m.

George would have liked every bit of it.

Following is George's obituary, and some information about a new scholarship in his name at UDM.

George Pickering, a professor of Religious Studies at UDM for more than 30 years, taught social ethics, Christian social thought, American Religion and theories and issues of justice, religion and science. He wrote extensively about the civil rights movement, the development of American religious liberalism, and ethical issues in contemporary society. In 1987, Pickering received the Myers Award from the University of Arkansas' Gustavus Myers Center for Human Rights in recognition of a book he cowrote, Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago.

Pickering is probably known best to students as a long-time panelist on "Ask the Professor," the University's long-running radio quiz show. Pickering's brilliant and often acerbic wit and contagious laugh kept the rest of the UDM professor panelists and program listeners entertained for years until his retirement from the show in 1999.

The family of George Pickering has established a fund for scholarships in Religious Studies and to support the UDM Center for Religion and Community Values. If you wish to contribute to this fund, please indicate which activity you'd like to support and forward your contribution to: Christine McNish, University Advancement, University of Detroit Mercy, P.O. Box 19900, Detroit, MI 48219-0900. Make checks payable to University of Detroit Mercy or call 313-993-1250 to make a credit card donation. You may also make a donation by visiting