Deceased January 3, 2019
Richard “Dick” Wirtz died in hospice on Jan. 3, cared for by his daughters, Margy Wirtz-Henry and Liza Wirtz. Dick was married to Margaret Ann “Peggy” Hickman Wirtz, whom he met working in the War Against Poverty. Peggy predeceased him, and, throughout her long illness, Dick was her devoted caregiver.
After receiving a master’s degree from Princeton, Dick worked with the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., and with HARYOU-ACT Inc., which operated in Harlem. However, both he and Peggy became discouraged: “It was rhetoric. There were no resources. There was no war.” Hoping to acquire “clout” and “do some good,” Dick got a J.D. from Stanford. He then clerked for a federal judge in New Orleans, practiced law and taught at the University of Tennessee College of Law, becoming full professor in 1987 and, five years later, dean. Named a Distinguished Professor of Law in 2000, Dick became emeritus professor in 2004 and continued to teach until 2010.
In reminiscences, classmates describe Dick as a man of wit and brilliance, unfailingly kind and always looking out for others. As the semesters at Amherst passed, he earned one distinction after another. He was in Scarab and Sphinx, an editor of Sabrina, Deke president, an excellent trumpet player and friend to many. All of his life, Dick remained a funny and stimulating conversationalist, posing unexpected questions and provoking new angles of thought.
To almost the very end, Dick remained active as a reader, learner, traveler and legal scholar, and as a volunteer for an astonishing number of groups and services, ranging from community sports to hospice, visitation and progressive politics. Twice a winner of outstanding teaching awards, he exemplified an Amherst ideal, and his friendships with Amherst classmates meant a lot to him in his later years, as his daughters report.
Jan Beyea ’61, John Bursk ’61, Denis Clifford ’61 and David Hamilton ’61