Deceased July 28, 2022
Dr. Sedelow died on July 28, 2022, at home on Eden Isle in Heber Springs, Ark. He entered Amherst at age 15, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa junior year, was undergraduate president of Phi Beta Kappa, graduated summa cum laude and won the Woods-Travis Prize. He remembered with great pleasure gifted teachers such as Ted Baird and Laurence Packard.
His graduate studies at Harvard and early teaching career at Milton Academy and Williams College were interrupted by the Korean War. As the officer in charge of Strategic Air Command’s Electronic Counter-Measurers School and Laboratory, he became the briefing officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
After completing his doctoral dissertation on David Hume’s History of England, he pursued a many-faceted career. He was dean of the graduate school of library and information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also serving there as professor of sociology and computer and information science and in the Institute for Research in Social Science. He chaired sociology and anthropology at St. Louis University. He was founding director of the National Science Foundation’s Computer Networking-for-Science program. At the Menninger Foundation, he was the Spencer Foundation fellow in interdisciplinary studies and visiting faculty at the Topeka Institute of Psychoanalysis, while his primary work was at the University of Kansas, as professor of computer science and of sociology. He also served on the university’s committee for the program in the history and philosophy of science and the Soviet and East European student program faculty.
His list of lectures and publications would cover many pages. He was anxious to show how language and its representations work systematically to bind together the inhabitants of our universe. Up until almost the day he passed, he heard from former students, thanking him for insights and inspiration.
Walter A. Sedelow Jr., born on April 17, 1928, in Ludlow, Massachusetts, died on July 28, 2022. I am writing as one of his Amherst students and then a friend for more than 60 years. After a brilliant Amherst career, junior Phi Beta Kappa and winner of the Woods and Travis Prizes, Walter served with the U.S. Air Force in Korea, and then earned an M.A. (1951) and a Ph.D. (1957) in history at Harvard University. His thesis was a unique study of David Hume’s History of England. Walter was already into computer analysis. He returned to Amherst as an instructor and then assistant professor of history, 1954-60. Subsequently he was professor of sociology and of computer and information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1968-1970); dean of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1967-1970); professor of sociology and of computer science at the University of Kansas (1970-1985) and professor of computer science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (1985-1995).
Walter and his wife, Sally Yeates Sedelow, pioneered methods of automated analysis of language and discourse, stylistic analysis, lexical databases (Roget’s Thesaurus) and computer applications in the humanities. They published numerous articles, singly and together.
I remember my teacher in freshman humanities, later in history, as short, not slim, smart as a whip, widely read and outspoken; he was also caring and sensitive. Recovering from an ear injury as a result of swimming in a race with a bad head cold, I missed several weeks of class. When I returned, Walter and I strolled around the campus as he tutored me on what I had missed. I especially enjoyed one atheist instructing another on why he should read The New Testament closely. Since we kept in touch, I recently sent Walter the draft of a memoir I was writing—to be published in India—and he sent me an invaluable comment.
When I mentioned at a recent Amherst reunion that I was in touch with Walter, several classmates—who also remembered him as an excellent teacher—jumped up and asked for his address. Those of us who had him as an instructor in the l950s were lucky indeed.
Leonard A. Gordon ’59