Obituary: Gerald H.F. Gardner / Scientist, teacher, social activist and feminist

March 2, 1926 - July 25, 2009

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Gerald H.F. Gardner, an Irish-born geophysicist who lived in Hazelwood, did groundbreaking work on the now-standard industry practice of using subterranean seismic vibrations in oil exploration and production.

However, he was most proud of the seismic social shifts his activism helped produce in the women's rights and racial justice movements in Pittsburgh, including ending the gender discrimination in newspaper want ads in 1973 and racial and gender discrimination in the hiring of Pittsburgh police officers in 1975.

An intellectual, teacher, activist and feminist, Dr. Gardner, 83, of Hazelwood, died Saturday at UPMC Shadyside. The cause was leukemia.

"He totally was a feminist, and he understood what that was all about from A-to-Z," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. "He was very intellectual but he also lived it. He was a very gentle and very strong man."

Ms. Smeal said Dr. Gardner used his mathematical skills to quantify the wages lost by women due to job discrimination in successful court cases against G.C. Murphy Co. and Kroger Co., a supermarket chain.

"What he was able to do was quantify the lost wages to make people understand that small differences in pay for men and women when they were hired impacted their promotions and earning power later," Ms. Smeal said. "He was a mathematician who had a practical way of describing the actual loss to women over their working lifetimes."

"I knew Gerry as a quiet but major force in the Pittsburgh women's rights movement in the '70s and onward to this day," said Jeanne Clark, president of Squirrel Hill National Organization for Women and a spokeswoman for Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a statewide environmental group. "He was a key strategist in a number of the early, game-changing gender discrimination cases taken by Greater Pittsburgh NOW, which resulted in dismantling some overt discrimination against women in the marketplace nationwide."

Both Dr. Gardner and his wife of 59 years, Dr. Jo Ann Evansgardner, who survives him, have served on the National Organization for Women's national board of directors.

Born in Tullamore, Ireland, in 1926, he graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in 1948 with degrees in mathematics and theoretical physics. He received his master's in applied mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University in 1949, his doctorate in mathematical physics from Princeton University in 1953 and was an honorary scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Dublin from 1950 through 1955, during which time his work as a technical liaison with the Peoples Republic of China was recognized by the National Academy of Sciences and the United Nations.

Dr. Gardner taught briefly at Trinity College, Cornell University, the Bell Telephone Laboratories and Carnegie Mellon University before joining Gulf Research and Development in Pittsburgh in 1956, working for 24 years on seismic imaging, underground oil reservoir properties and high-performance engines. In 1980 he became director of electrical engineering and director of the Allied Geophysical Laboratories at the University of Houston, where he taught for 10 years, and then joined Rice University as the Keck Foundation professor of geophysics.

The Society of Exploration Geophysicists recognized Dr. Gardner as a distinguished lecturer in 1979-80, and Halliburton gave him its Excellence in Teaching award in 1984.

But Dr. Gardner once told an interviewer that his proudest achievement was his legal challenge of employment ads segregated by sex in The Pittsburgh Press that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in his favor in the early 1970s.

At the time, all newspaper classified ads were divided into "help wanted male" and "help wanted female." Dr. Gardner brought the issue to the attention of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations which adopted his position and charged The Pittsburgh Press with sex discrimination.

The newspaper, along with the entire newspaper industry, appealed the case, saying it violated freedom of the press provisions of the U.S. Constitution. But the Supreme Court affirmed the findings of the Human Relations Commission, and newspapers across the nation had to start running gender-neutral classified ads.

In 1975 Dr. Gardner was involved in a federal lawsuit by NOW, the Pittsburgh NAACP and the Guardians that alleged discrimination against minorities and women in hiring by the Pittsburgh Police Bureau. The case resulted in a consent decree that directed the city to hire police in groups of four -- one white man, one white woman, one black man, one black woman -- and was in effect for 15 years. Until that decree was dismantled by a lawsuit alleging reverse discrimination, Pittsburgh led the nation in the number of women and African-American police officers.

"When I met Gerry, I was executive director of the NAACP and had a lot of stuff going on; equality, protests. Gerry, Jo Ann and other members of NOW became very active in helping us and asked me to join NOW," said Alma Speed Fox, president of Freedom Unlimited and longtime NAACP leader. "I told them I already had one revolution to run and didn't need another but with all the work they did, I couldn't say no.

"I can't say thank God for men like Gerry Gardner, because I don't know another man like Gerry Gardner. So I'll just thank God for him."

Cremation arrangements are being handled by H.P. Brandt Funeral Home in Ross. The family has not scheduled a memorial service.

Don Hopey can be reached at or 412-263-1983.


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