Valuing Friendship, Repairing the World

Larry Fuchs
Brandeis University Farber Archives
Larry Fuchs

Beloved professor Lawrence Fuchs, an intellectual giant whose accomplishments in and out of the American studies classroom were matched only by the impact he had in shaping Brandeis’ core values, died March 17 at his home in Canton, Mass. He was 86.

A popular teacher whose courses were often oversubscribed, he built close, enduring relationships with students and fellow professors alike during his half century on the faculty. It was not unusual for him to stay in touch with students for years — even decades — after they had graduated (in the Brandeis Questionnaire on page 40, Christie Hefner ’74 calls Fuchs “a great friend”).

“He was not only a teacher and a scholar, but someone who wanted to help the Brandeis ‘family’ thrive by paying the closest attention he could to his students and his colleagues,” says Daniel Terris, P’08, P’11, P’12, P’15, the director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.

Fuchs taught Fellow Barbara (Cantor) Sherman ’54, P’83, and her daughter, Robin Sherman ’83. “He went above and beyond what you would expect from a professor,” Robin says.

He earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University in 1950 and began his Brandeis career in the politics department two years later, while still a doctoral student at Harvard.

A renowned authority in American studies, Fuchs founded that department at Brandeis in 1970 and served as its chair for 25 years. Yet he also championed social justice and community service. In 1961, he literally left his work behind to conduct research in the field, taking a two-year leave from Brandeis to lead the first Peace Corps unit in the Philippines under Corps founder Sargent Shriver. Fuchs’ experience later became a book, “Those Peculiar Americans: The Peace Corps and American National Character.”

In all, he wrote 10 books over 40 years, starting with “The Political Behavior of American Jews” in 1955, the year he graduated with a Harvard PhD. His seminal work, “The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture,” was published in 1990.

“Larry exemplified the rare capacity to balance and reconcile the values of friendship and family with the moral imperative to repair the larger world,” says longtime friend and colleague Steve Whitfield, PhD’72, the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization. “He was both admired and loved. He possessed an exceptional combination of emotional empathy and political effectiveness.”

“He was the living embodiment of our commitment to combining theory with practice,” says Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein ’78, MA’78. “He helped form the ethos of this young university during his 50 years on the faculty.”

In 1979, Fuchs left Brandeis again for two years, accepting an offer to serve as executive director of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy under President Jimmy Carter. Working with Senators Ted Kennedy and Alan Simpson, he helped draft complex bipartisan legislation that led to the first major reform of U.S. immigration policy in 20 years.

Fuchs founded the Commonwealth Corps in Massachusetts and served on the National Advisory Board of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress. He was active with the Massachusetts Congress of Racial Equality, the United World Federalists, and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“He not only exemplified the Brandeis spirit of connecting the highest degree of scholarship with making a direct difference in the world, he was one of the early faculty who helped establish the Brandeis values of academic excellence and social justice that have endured for decades,” says Terris.

A public memorial service will be held April 21 at 10:30 a.m. in Brandeis’ Hassenfeld Conference Center.

Gifts in his honor may be made to the Larry Fuchs Fund to support the American studies program at Brandeis. Send gifts to Brandeis University, 415 South St., Mailstop 122, Waltham, MA 02453, or at