Obituary: Burkart Holzner / Former head of Pitt University Center for International Studies

Died Aug. 26, 2014

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A tall man with a booming voice and a slight German accent, Burkart Holzner could be an imposing figure when he entered a room at the University of Pittsburgh to speak.

But a colleague said the former director of Pitt’s University Center for International Studies, who died Tuesday at age 83, was as memorable for something else: his warmth and his passion for the belief that people worldwide would be less likely to harm one another if they could see what they had in common.

“Global understanding was very important to him,” said Lawrence Feick, the university center’s current director.

Mr. Holzner of Mount Washington died at the Charles Morris Rehabilitation Center in Squirrel Hill.

Born in Germany in 1931 and raised there, Mr. Holzner traveled between that country and the United States and received his doctoral degree in 1958 from the University of Bonn in Germany. His appreciation for cooperation across borders was informed by having lived part of his childhood during a world war, said his wife of 33 years, Leslie Dundes Holzner.

Her husband taught and lectured at universities in this country and abroad, among them campuses in Germany, Japan and China, in particular Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he helped to found the department of sociology, his wife said.

Mr. Holzner spent the bulk of his professional career at Pitt, arriving there in 1960.

According to Pitt, where a lecture series was named in his honor, Mr. Holzner focused his studies in sociological theory, the sociology of knowledge and international affairs. He taught in the department of sociology and was its chairman for 14 years starting in 1966. He was named director of Pitt’s University Center for International Studies in 1980, a position he held for 20 years.

Mr. Holzner assumed the center’s leadership during the administration of the late Pitt Chancellor Wesley Posvar, who believed strongly that Pitt should be an institution with global reach.

Mr. Holzner was a founding member of the Association of International Education Administrators, an organization created in 1982. He was its president in 1990, and the year before that, he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Council for International Education.

Mr. Feick, who has been at Pitt for 33 years, said Mr. Holzner was a warm presence in and out of the classroom. A student of Mr. Holzner’s from the 1960s recalled how his sympathetic approach helped put the young student at ease.

“Professor Holzner was well-known in the university for his formidable intellect, but what I held most dear was that he taught in a manner [that] was lucid, stimulating and motivating,” the former student wrote.

Ultimately while at Pitt, Mr. Holzner was named a Distinguished Service Professor of International Studies and Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Public and International Affairs, his family said.

In fall 2008, Pitt honored his contributions by announcing the inaugural lecture of the Burkart Holzner Lecture Series on International Issues.

“Dr. Holzner’s extraordinary contributions and commitment were instrumental in establishing [Pitt] as a leader in international education,” Mr. Feick said in remarks the university published at the time.

In addition to his wife, surviving are sons Dan of Richmond, Calif., and Weir Strange of Princeton, N.J.; daughters Claire Holzner of Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Sara Chapman of Franklin Park; and several grandchildren.

No visitation is being held, but a memorial service will be held at a later date. Memorial contributions may be made to Doctors Without Borders, P.O. Box 5023, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5023, or The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Bill Schackner:, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.

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