University Professor Jack Child, who died Saturday at age 73 after complications related to open-heart surgery, had an eclectic list of passions.
Penguins, Antarctica, Latin American postage stamps.
More importantly he leaves behind no shortage of friends who admired his innovative approaches to teaching and his devotion to his students and colleagues.
“He had a wonderful sense of humor,” said SIS dean Louis Goodman, a longtime associate of Child’s. “He would dress up like a penguin and walk around campus. He would dress up like Fidel Castro.”
Child came to American University first as a graduate student, earning master’s and doctorate degrees from SIS in international relations, joined SIS as an assistant dean in 1980, and later moved to the College of Arts and Sciences. There he taught in the Department of Language and Foreign Studies.
“Jack was an exceptional scholar and colleague and a wonderfully interesting, multi-faceted human being. His passing leaves an enormous hole in the department, college, and university," CAS dean Peter Starr noted on his school’s memoriam page devoted to Child.
As an assistant dean Child played an important role at SIS, Goodman said. After his move to CAS “his ties to SIS never abated, and he was beloved by all the faculty here, and he was named faculty of the year at SIS a few years ago.”
Child had a fascinating background: born in Buenos Aires, he lived with his American parents in South America for 18 years. After graduating from Yale with a degree in communication engineering, he joined the U.S. Army, where he served for 20 years as a Latin American specialist. He retired as a lieutenant colonel.
While in the military, Child served two tours in Vietnam, a brief assignment in Cambodia, and in Colombia.
He was still on active duty when he earned his graduate degrees from AU.
“He was just a wonderful scholar, a wonderful colleague who in a way anchored the Latin American studies community here,” Goodman said. “Every semester he would on his own publish who was taking what courses and send it out to everyone who taught about Latin America to keep the community together.”
Goodman noted that Child was also the pioneering director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
“He was the model teacher using technology in the classroom in ways that just entranced students,” Goodman said.
Child’s research focused on cultural studies and conflict resolution in Latin America, with a focus on Antarctica and the Falklands-Malvinas.
Child also loved to get out of the classroom: He was the guest lecturer and guide on 14 expedition cruises to Antarctica and the surrounding vicinity. And his boundless enthusiasm for penguins captured attention as well.
His books also reflect his eclectic interests. Among his publications:
• Miniature Messages: The Semiotics of Latin American Postage Stamps
• Latin American History through Its Art and Literature
• Antarctica and South American Geopolitics: Frozen Lebensraum
He wrote many other books and articles and won grants from organizations such as the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“Jack was a militant Latin Americanist, deeply committed to teaching and scholarship,” said Amy Oliver, chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion and associate professor of Spanish and Latin American studies. “His tireless efforts toward Latin American studies and American University have greatly improved both. Perhaps most of all, I remember how beautifully he treated every person he came in contact with at AU.”
Child will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday, September 23, at the Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church, on Nebraska Avenue across from American University. A reception will immediately follow in the SIS building atrium.