One holds a Nobel Prize; another 13 Gold Gloves. One has a performing arts center named after her; another will have a star bearing his name embedded in the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
From a former U.S. secretary of state to a former head of a university, the six notable people selected to receive honorary degrees during the University’s 142nd Commencement May 16 all stand out in their respective fields.
During the ceremony, which begins at 8:30 a.m. in Brookings Quadrangle, the University will also bestow academic degrees on more than 2,300 students.
Madeleine K. Albright, Ph.D., former U.S. secretary of state, will deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary doctor of humanities degree. (See her profile in the March 21 Record.)
The other honorary degree recipients and their degrees are: Herman N. Eisen, M.D., professor emeritus and senior lecturer in the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, doctor of science; Douglass C. North, Ph.D., Washington University’s Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts & Sciences and co-recipient of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, doctor of science; Ozzie Smith, retired St. Louis Cardinals shortstop and holder of 13 Gold Gloves for his defensive skills, doctor of humanities; William P. Stiritz, former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Ralston Purina Co., doctor of humanities; and Blanche M. Touhill, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history and education and chancellor emeritus at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, doctor of humanities.
Eisen’s appointment in 1955 to an endowed chair as Professor of Medicine at Washington University provided the resources that launched his laboratory toward international prominence in immunology.
Eisen came to the School of Medicine from New York University, where he had earned a medical degree in 1943. At NYU, his research facilities were limited, and it was necessary for him to moonlight as a physician in private practice to provide for his family.
By joining Washington University’s medical school, with its long tradition of full-time academic engagement, Eisen’s research took off, enabling him and his colleagues to focus intensively on how an individual’s immune system recognizes and reacts against virtually limitless numbers of different foreign substances called antigens. This capacity underlies the immune system’s ability to protect against the hordes of viruses and bacteria that cause infectious diseases.
In his 18 years at the University, he co-authored several editions of an innovative textbook on microbiology and immunology and became professor and head of the Department of Microbiology in 1961.
In 1973, Eisen joined the Center for Cancer Research at MIT, where he continues to make advances in immunology as an active researcher.
North has spent more than 50 years pondering complex variations of a simple question: Why do some countries become rich, while others remain poor?
North graduated with a triple bachelor’s degree in political science, philosophy and economics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1942, and later, in 1952, earned a doctorate in economics there.
He began his academic career at the University of Washington, where he spent 33 years on the economics faculty, including a 12-year stint as department chair.
North came to Washington University in 1983 as the Henry R. Luce Professor of Law and Liberty in the Department of Economics in Arts & Sciences and served as director of the Center in Political Economy from 1984-1990.
His research has focused on the formation of political and economic institutions and the consequences of these institutions on the performance of economies through time.
In 1992, he became the first economic historian to win one of the economics profession’s most prestigious honors, the John R. Commons Award. Currently, he is involved in the new and growing branch of economics called institutional economics, which draws heavily on his work and that of fellow Nobel laureate Ronald Coase.
Smith is known in baseball as “The Wizard” and is arguably the greatest defensive shortstop in the history of Major League Baseball. He redefined the position in his nearly two decades of work at one of the game’s most demanding positions.
Smith, who retired as a player in 1996, was named to 15 all-star teams.
On July 28, 2002, Smith became the 22nd major-league shortstop and the 254th person overall inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Smith’s contributions off the field also are noteworthy. A St. Louis resident, he has spent countless hours assisting local charities, including the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the St. Louis Variety Club, Ronald McDonald House and Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club.
He has received a number of awards recognizing his commitment to his community, including the 1992 St. Louis Man of the Year for his charity work and his all-star status on the diamond. He was the first athlete to receive the prestigious civic award.
On May 11, he will be inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame with a star and biographical plaque embedded along the Delmar Loop in University City.
Stiritz is chairman of the board of both Energizer Holdings Inc., a manufacturer of primary batteries and flashlights and a provider of portable power, and Ralcorp Holdings Inc., a publicly owned food company.
He served for more than 30 years in executive positions with Ralston Purina, including as chairman, president and chief executive officer from 1981-1997.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University in 1959 and a master’s degree in European history from Saint Louis University in 1968.
As a member of Washington University’s Board of Trustees from 1982-1998, he chaired the board’s Hilltop Finance Committee, helping steer the University’s growth and progress.
In 1998, Stiritz and his wife, Susan, created the University’s first endowed professorship in women’s studies — now known as the Program in Women and Gender Studies — strengthening the increasingly important academic program in Arts & Sciences.
Stiritz has been actively involved in numerous St. Louis civic efforts, including heading an American Red Cross Blood Drive and a Boy Scout Food Drive and chairing three separate Salvation Army Tree of Lights annual fund-raising campaigns.
During Touhill’s 12-year tenure as chancellor, UM-St. Louis added 30 degree programs; funded 32 new endowed professorships; and added campus housing and built or renovated 17 academic buildings. Highlights include construction of a 175,000-square-foot student center and a $50 million performing arts center, which bears her name.
The university also dramatically increased its minority and international student enrollment and raised more than $275 million in gifts, grants and contracts. The campus expanded its size by 138 acres to 328 acres and created academic centers in four locations around Missouri.
Touhill, along with Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, was instrumental in helping develop the Joint Engineering Program, a collaboration between UM-St. Louis and Washington University in which nearly 400 students per year participate. The program, which allows students to take their lower-level engineering courses at UM-St. Louis and upper-level courses and labs at Washington University, is the first such program in the country to receive national accreditation.
Touhill earned a bachelor’s degree and doctorate in history and a master’s degree in geography, all from Saint Louis University.
Touhill joined UM-St. Louis as an assistant professor in 1965, just two years after the campus opened. She was the first female faculty member in the Department of History, the first tenured female faculty member and the first female administrator in the university’s history.
She assumed the responsibilities of interim chancellor in 1990 and was named chancellor in April 1991.