Pera Wirszup, who along with husband Izaak was a longtime resident master at the former Woodward Court residence hall, died Aug. 20 in her Hyde Park home. A former lecturer in Russian at the University, she was 100.
The Wirszups served as resident masters from 1971 to 1985 and pioneered the tradition of bringing faculty and students together in a lecture program that drew hundreds and featured such notable figures as historian John Hope Franklin and Nobel-winning physicist Subramahnyan Chandrasekhar. That effort continues with the Izaak Wirszup Lecture Series, endowed by a former student, and held at the Max Palevsky Residential Commons.
“Pera and Izaak were an extraordinary and vibrant presence on the campus, and created a tremendous sense of community in Woodward Court and the campus itself,” said Kate Bensen, AB’80, who was a student worker at Woodward Court.
“They always had an open door, a hug and wonderful advice for anyone who needed it. Pera was a gifted cultivator of people, and even at the age of 100, had an enviable calendar of visits from friends and former students. It was a privilege to have her as a friend for nearly 40 years,” she said.
Izaak Wirszup, a professor of mathematics and a founder of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, died in 2008.
'MAGNIFICENT EXAMPLES OF KINDNESS AND GENEROSITY'
Pera Poswianksi was born in Wilno, Poland (present-day Vilnius, Lithuania). Her family owned a textile manufacturing business and were part of the vibrant Jewish community in the city.
She and Izaak were survivors of the Holocaust. Most of their families died following Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Both Pera and Izaak lost their spouses but met again after the war and married, with Izaak adopting Pera’s daughter Marina.
“She utilized her resourcefulness, courage and intelligence to survive the Holocaust. Her grace and guidance influenced countless students,” Marina Tatar said.
Together, they made their way to Paris, where Wirszup worked before being invited to join Chicago's math department in 1949.
“It is amazing that Izaak and Pera, after all that they endured during the second World War, could be such magnificent examples of kindness and generosity,” said Robert Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics.
“Through a most remarkable collaboration, they greatly improved the quality of life on our campus for generations of students and colleagues alike,” he added.
Pera Wirszup found a job with Peck & Peck, a women’s clothing store, and eventually rose to a management position and was invited to speak about her success at a national convention held in New York.
After leaving Peck & Peck, she joined the Slavic Languages and Literatures department at UChicago in 1980 as a lecturer in conversational Russian, one of six languages she spoke. She introduced the students to the classics of Russian literature. She continued teaching Russian until 1992.
In addition to daughter Marina, Wirszup is survived by three granddaughters and six great-grandsons.
Services will be at noon Wednesday at The Chapel, 8851 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Memorials may be made to the Izaak and Pera Wirszup Mathematics Fellowship Fund, Gift Administration, 5235 S. Harper Ave., fourth floor, Chicago, IL 60615.