2007 Distinguished Alumni Awards

On May 18, 2007, we celebrated our 2007 Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards recipients.

Meet The 2007 Recipients

M. Patricia Barrett, MLA ’95

After a 22-year career at Ameren Corporation, Ms. Barrett was one of the founders of EMD (Experience Makes the Difference) Consulting Group to provide an array of strategic management services to the nonprofit community. Throughout her career, Ms. Barrett has pursued continuing education. She first attended University College in the mid-1960s and later enrolled in advanced programs in Washington University’s law school and business school. Ms. Barrett enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts Program in 1986, graduating in 1995.

Her long list of accomplishments as a community leader have included chairing the Provident Counseling board of directors, serving as chair and director of the Metropolitan Association for Philanthropy, as a commissioner on the City of Clayton Plan Commission, and national and regional leadership roles with the Coro Leadership Center. She was a board member of the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation from 2000 to 2003, and for six years was a commissioner for the Investigative Learning Center program of the St. Louis Public Schools. In 1996 Ms. Barrett’s volunteer work was honored with a Woman of Achievement award, and in 1991 she was recognized by the YWCA of Metropolitan St. Louis as a community business leader.

Currently, Ms. Barrett serves on Washington University’s National Public Relations Council, and chairs the Dean’s Advisory Board for Arts & Sciences. At St. Louis University, she chairs the Advisory Council for the College of Public Service. She is on the board of directors for The Scholarship Foundation, and the Innsbrook Institute, a music camp for emerging artists. She co-chaired the FOCUS St. Louis “What’s Right with the Region” awards in 2000. She said, “The beauty of living in an academically rich city is the wealth of opportunities available to keep on learning.”

Mel F. Brown, AB ’57, JD ’61

Mel Brown cherishes family and community. He was influenced and inspired by his mother, who, when she was widowed with no income, started and sustained a small business while also keeping a supportive home for her two sons. By the time Mr. Brown came to Washington University on a scholarship, he had learned by his mother’s example to surmount challenges and help others.

Mr. Brown graduated in 1957 with a degree in political science and returned years later for his law degree. Mr. Brown's early years in corporate legal work culminated in his being named executive vice president, general counsel, secretary, and a director of the newly formed ITT Finance Corporation in 1974.

Seeking greater challenges he moved into business management. By 1983, he was president and CEO of ITT Commercial Finance Corporation. When Deutsche Bank acquired this corporation in 1995, Mr. Brown became president and CEO of Deutsche Financial Services, and later vice chairman of the board. Now principal at Fromel Consulting and chairman of Triad Bank, launched last year, he maintains his reputation for being collegial, inspirational, demanding, and fair.

Mr. Brown likes to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, saying that the thrill in life is being a participant, not a spectator—and he lives by that credo. A former member of the Washington University Board of Trustees, he chairs the Eliot Society Executive Committee, serves as vice chair of the Regional Cabinet, is a member and past chair of the Alumni Board of Governors. Mr. Brown is devoted to his family—his two sons, two stepdaughters, and eight grandchildren (with a ninth due in August)—and to St. Louis and the larger community.

Ronald J. Himes, BS ’78

Ronald Himes is the Founder and Producing Director of The Saint Louis Black Repertory Company, founded in 1976 while he was still a student at Washington University. He began attending classes at Washington University while still in high school, enrolled in 1970 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from University College in 1978.

The Saint Louis Black Repertory Company is the largest African-American performing arts organization in the United States. Now in its 30th season, it reaches an audience of more than 175,000 annually between its main stage productions, touring shows, and community outreach. “The mission of the company hasn't changed much since its inception,” says Mr. Himes. “It is to heighten the social, cultural, and educational awareness of the community through the performing arts, to provide opportunities for African-Americans to develop, and to showcase their talents.

Mr. Himes has produced and directed more than 100 plays, including August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, and The Black Rep’s own I Remember Harlem II. Himes began acting when two friends dared him to audition for a campus production of No Place to Be Somebody, and his acting credits include starring roles in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil, Sty of the Blind Pig, The Meeting, When The Chickens Came Home to Roost, Boesman and Lena, and I’m Not Rappaport. Other acting credits include The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, several productions with the St. Louis Theatre Project Company, and the MUNY.

Mr. Himes has taught at Washington University since 1987. He received an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from the university in 1998. At the present time he is Washington University’s Henry E. Hampton, Jr. Artist-in-Residence.

Lawrence Kahn, House Staff  ’51

Dr. Kahn earned his BA from the University of Alabama in 1941 and his MD from the Louisiana State University College of Medicine in 1945. He came to St. Louis for his internship at St. Louis City Hospital. Dr. Kahn served as a house officer at St. Louis Children’s Hospital from 1948 to 1951, spending one of those years as a the Fern Waldman Research Fellow in Pediatrics. He was engaged in private pediatric practice until 1970 when he joined the full-time faculty of the Department of Pediatrics. Dr. Kahn retired with the title Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics in 1992, and opened another chapter in his life.

At that time, Henrietta Friedman was organizing a new program at Washington University called the Lifelong Learning Institute. Dr. Kahn helped to organize the Institute, and served as its second chair. The Lifelong Learning Institute has since become an unqualified success. It now has more than 600 active members participating in non-credit enrichment studies in subjects ranging from economics to Broadway musicals.

Dr. Kahn said, “I want to emphasize the importance of the Lifelong Learning Institute. Thanks to Henrietta and the help of Bob Wiltenburg, plus the Chancellor’s support, we have a superb resource that keeps elderly people intellectually stimulated. People of my generation are more active and eager for new challenges than were our parents at the same time in their lives. Certainly this will be true of the Baby Boomers following us. I believe it is an important link between the community and Washington University in St. Louis.”

Alvin Rabushka, AB ’62, MA ’66, PhD ’68

Alvin Rabushka has given thousands of interviews about the flat tax, the one-rate-for-all system he helped develop. But Mr. Rabushka—who is the David and Joan Traitel Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution—says the flat tax can be boiled down to seven words: Remove the tax code from the economy. His essential argument: The flat tax is simple, it is fair and it stimulates economic growth and investment.

Mr. Rabushka is the author or co-author of more than 20 books and dozens of articles and other writings. He has two web sites that contain complete books and varied publications and commentary. His book The Flat Tax, recently re-released as the inaugural volume in the Hoover Institution’s new Hoover Classics series, will be available online at no cost. He has consulted for and testified before public agencies such as the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress, the White House Conference on Aging, and the Agency for International Development. In 1980 he served on President Reagan’s Tax Policy Tax Force.

It was also in 1980 that Mr. Rabushka scripted and appeared in the documentary Hong Kong—A Story of Human Freedom and Progress. Today his film contrasting Hong Kong’s free-market system to China’s communist economy is used in classrooms around the country.

Also a philosopher, humorist, and family historian, Mr. Rabushka has posted on his web site a funny, instructive short book called No Common Sense. It features people he calls “great modern philosophers”—that is, five members of his own large and outspoken St. Louis family, plus his mother-in-law and two friends. He writes of his wife, Louisa, and their two children, and lists essential philosophers through the ages. He hopes the reader gains, as he puts it, “a better understanding of the human condition, why the world is so screwed up, and how you can better cope with life.”

Ronald M. Rettner, AB ’72

Ronald Rettner earned his bachelor’s degree, with honors, in political science at Washington University. He also has a master’s degree in business administration and urban planning, and a degree in law.

Today, after earlier financial and business successes, Mr. Rettner is president of Rettner Management Corporation and partner in Baron Associates. Under the auspices of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, he has helped develop commercial properties in “enterprise zones” in the South Bronx, thereby transforming neighborhoods. He has served as co-chair of the City of New York Day Care Owners Association, which sets policy and negotiates leases for 154 city-operated day care centers.

He has also directed the nonprofit Morris B. Rettner Foundation, named for his father, since 1975. According to Mr. Rettner, Washington University had a profound effect on his development, inspiring in him a love of learning and new knowledge, and instilling confidence to speak and act publicly. He has demonstrated those capabilities on congressional committees, as adviser to congressmen, as delegate to the Platform Committee of the 2000 Republican National Convention, as campaign committee member when Rudolph Giuliani ran for mayor of New York, and as surrogate speaker for Rudolph Giuliani and President George H.W. Bush.

Ron’s service to Washington University is notable. In addition to his and his family’s immense generosity, Mr. Rettner has contributed time and energy to the Arts & Sciences National Council, the New York Regional Cabinet, and the School of Law Building Committee. He also conducts seminars on the value of a liberal arts education in business.

Pepper Schwartz, AB ’67, MA ’69

As a reporter in a recent Science section of the New York Times put it, Pepper Schwartz writes about a subject the whole world cares about: sexuality. To determine what makes relationships enduring, satisfying, and fulfilling, Ms. Schwartz conducts rigorous research. She publishes the results in books and scholarly journals; she also translates the results in magazine columns, popular books, and television appearances.

Research and teaching are at the heart of her professional life. Ms. Schwartz is the Clarence Schrag Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, whose faculty she joined in 1972. The academic life began for her at Washington University, where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. She reports having had “a fabulous experience” here: She was a cheerleader and president of her sorority, and she was voted outstanding performer in Bearskin Follies her senior year. While she was a sophomore, sociology professor Helen Gouldner encouraged Ms. Schwartz to write and submit a scholarly paper, and that same year she presented it at a meeting. After Washington University, she went on to earn her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in sociology at Yale University.

Ms. Schwartz believes research sociologists have an obligation to disseminate their findings beyond academia to address the public’s need for sound information. So, in addition to reaching out through print and electronic media, Pepper lectures nationally and internationally about relationships, women’s concerns, parents and children, communication between men and women, and maintaining personal and family well-being in these times. A fellow of the International Academy of Sex Research, Pepper has served her profession nationally in dozens of ways, including extensive committee work for the American Sociological Association and consultancies for the National Academy of Science and the American Medical Association.

William Jay Smith, AB ’39, MA ’41

In one person, we honor a poet, a noted translator, a memoirist, a children’s book author, and a literary critic esteemed in the world of letters. William Jay Smith has received national and international awards, major professional memberships, distinguished professorships and residencies, and excellent reviews. He was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, the position now called U.S. Poet Laureate. A member of the Academy of Arts and Letters, he has also received awards from the French and Swedish Academies, and he was the first American to receive Hungary’s Gold Medal of Labor for his translations.

Since the 1940s, Mr. Smith has received hundreds of letters from international literary figures, editors, scholars, publishers, and friends—all preserved in his papers, which he generously donated to Washington University Libraries. The Smith Collection, one of the largest and most varied compendiums in our Modern Literacy Manuscript Collection, is of tremendous scholarly and historical interest.

This past member of the Library National Council earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in French. He has translated the work of poets writing in this and eight other languages. The enormous range and depth of Mr. Smith’s life and work imply his ability to apprehend and creatively resolve profound contrasts and complexities. Born in the Deep South of Southern parents, he was raised at Jefferson Barracks between world wars—an unusual time captured in his richly historical and personal memoir Army Brat. Part Choctaw and descended from a chief, Mr. Smith later wrote The Cherokee Lottery, poems about the suffering that exiled Southern Indian tribes endured.

Such exceptional writings are complemented by his light verse and children’s poetry, which often explore themes developed and expanded in his adult work. “I have been drawn to light verse,” he has said, “because of my firm belief that humor is one of America’s greatest and most enduring characteristics.”

Harriet K. Switzer

Harriet Switzer has graced Brookings Hall for more than 26 years. A senior administrator who serves effectively as the University’s corporate secretary, Ms. Switzer is responsible to the chancellor and the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the smooth functioning of the 80-member Board and its 13 standing committees. She is also University coordinator of the Women’s Society, a highly active service organization with more than 600 members; assistant to the chancellor for special projects related to external affairs; and a member of the chancellor’s University Council.

Ms. Switzer's background in the humanities has graced her interactions with Board members, the chancellor, and hundreds of members of the University community. She holds three degrees in philosophy, including her doctorate from Fordham University. For her doctoral dissertation on the role of receptivity in 20th-century French philosopher Maurice Blondel’s philosophy of action, Harriet worked from French sources. The discipline, precise thinking, and effective writing skills honed in the process have enhanced her work at the Danforth Campus.

She also has brought to Washington University the benefits of 23 years spent as a Religious of the Sacred Heart, which reinforced her respect for others. She taught in high schools and served as headmistress of Villa Duchesne/Oak Hill School. Ms. Switzer also was president of Maryville College—now Maryville University—and led the college into a new era as an independent, co-educational institution. She has been recognized as a “Woman of Achievement in Education.” Ms. Switzer, who retired in June 2007, said she’ll miss two things most of all: one is building connections among people; the other is being at the service of the wonderful men and women who give so much of their time and resources to Washington University.