The Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 13, 2003
January 13, 2003
VOL. 32, NO. 17


Obituary: Harry Woolf, Former Provost, History of Science Chair, Dies

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Harry Woolf, a former provost of Johns Hopkins, longtime chair of the History of Science Department and founding member of JHPIEGO Corp., died of Parkinson's disease on Jan. 6 at his Princeton, N.J., home.

Woolf, who was 79, is remembered by former colleagues as a great thinker, visionary and friend.

Born and raised in New York City, Woolf served in the Army during World War II; he fought in the Pacific Theater and was awarded three Bronze Stars. After his military service, he obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees in 1948 and 1949 from the University of Chicago and in 1955 was awarded a doctorate in the history of science from Cornell University.

He taught physics and history of science at Boston and Brandeis universities and then was appointed to the faculty of the University of Washington, where he became the editor of Isis, a scholarly review devoted to the history of science.

Woolf came to Johns Hopkins in 1961 to become the Willis K. Shepherd Chair of the new History of Science Department. In 1972, he was named provost of the university, having served previously as both deputy president and chief academic officer. Woolf left Hopkins in 1976 to become the director of the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research institution located in Princeton, N.J.

In a May 20, 1976, Gazette article on Woolf's pending departure, President Steven Muller said, "The Johns Hopkins University and I will find Harry Woolf irreplaceable. He is a scholar and a gentlemen of rare talent and charm, and the Institute for Advanced Study could not have made a better selection."

Under Woolf's direction, the institute achieved significant growth and development in all directions, including a substantial increase in the endowment. In 1987, he stepped down as its director to become professor at large. He assumed emeritus status in 1994.

Johns Hopkins faculty member Robert Kargon, who replaced Woolf as Willis K. Shepherd Professor in the History Science, said that his former colleague and close friend was one of the institutional founders of the history of science, not just at Hopkins but in America.

"He truly helped shape the direction of the field. And he made Hopkins' History of Science Department one of the leading programs of its kind," says Kargon, who was hired by Woolf in 1964.

"He was a major figure on campus," Kargon adds. "When he left Hopkins, it was said that he would be sorely missed. He was."

A former Bolton Hill and Mount Washington resident, Woolf was a founding member and trustee of the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Gynecology and Obstetrics, for which he served as president and board chairman. He was still on the board at the time of his death.

JHPIEGO president Noel McIntosh, who met Woolf in 1988, says that the former provost was a "visionary person" who throughout the years was one of JHPIEGO's true champions.

"He has always been supportive of anything new that we've tried," McIntosh says. "Harry was a very clever and creative man who could think and work outside the box. He was just imbued with academia. We chatted often over the years, and I can say, above all, he was just a really neat guy."

Woolf recently served on the advisory boards of Alexander von Humboldt - Stiftung and Westmark International. He began his association with Bankers Trust Alex. Brown (now Deutsche Asset Management) in 1976, and from 1997 to 1999 he served as president of its Flag Funds.

In 1983, Woolf returned to Hopkins to receive an honorary degree and to serve as speaker for the university's main commencement ceremony.

He is survived by his daughter Susan and her husband, Steve Price; son Alan and his wife, Judith; son Aaron; daughter Sara; granddaughter, Alexandra Rosemary Price; and sister, Paula Woolf Shapiro.