Deceased April 14, 2020

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In Memory
William Henry Rinehart - Sleeping Children, ca. 1874
William Henry Rinehart 
Sleeping Children, ca. 1874
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Gerdts (Class of 1949 and Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, 1992)

From the time he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior (and senior), we knew Bill would likely excel in any career he chose. We were not sure what it would be. Neither was he. After just four days at Harvard Law School, he determined that this field would not be his passion. He switched to Harvard’s graduate school of arts and science and history department. This was to everyone’s benefit, for at the time of his passing he was referred to as a “giant” in the field of American art.

His first position was at the Newark, N.J., museum 1954-1966. Already with an M.A., he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1966, which gave him the opportunity to teach at the university level, and he became associate professor of art history at the University of Maryland, where he remained for three years.

But Bill was never happy to be far from New York, so he returned in 1969 to become vice president for research at the Coe Kerr gallery before joining the faculty of the newly created CUNY graduate program of art history. As he noted in his 50th-year reunion comments, teaching was his true love.

He was a guest lecturer at exhibitions curated for museums and universities around the country and occasionally abroad. His record of publications was prodigious: at least one title every year from 1954-2019: journals, articles, essays and 25 major books.

He received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Amherst in 1992 and the same from Syracuse in 1996. From his own outstanding art collection, he and his wife, Abigail, assembled an exhibition for the Mead Art Museum in 1998.

Bill died April 14, 2020, of complications of COVID-19 at age 91. He is survived by Abigail; his first wife, Elaine Dee; their son, Jeffrey; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A remarkable career for an undergraduate who once said that his “two best subjects” in college were math and chemistry. Clearly, he had a wide range of academic talents. His greatest pride was in his doctoral students who went on to influential positions at museums, universities and galleries around the country. Another classmate of whom we can be very proud.

Gerry Reilly ’49