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No limit to lifelong learning

Robert Williamson, 97, and Theodore Hailperin, 98, continue to pursue a life of ideas.

Theodore “Ted” Hailperin, professor emeritus of mathematics, achieved another milestone in a long career when Lehigh University Press published his most recent book in 2011.

Hailperin was approaching 96 years of age when Logic with a Probability Semantics, Including Solutions to Some Philosophical Problems was released.

Today, Hailperin is 98 and he lives with his wife, Ruth, at the Moravian Hall retirement community in Nazareth.

Remarkably, he is not the only Lehigh nonagenarian with a recent book to his credit.

Robert C. “Bob” Williamson, professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology and the founder and first chair of that department, wrote Academe and Escapes in a Changing World, which was published in 2007.

The book is a memoir of his travels, his teaching career and “everything else: family, politics, my world view,” says Williamson, who is 97 and lives at the Moravian Village retirement community in Bethlehem with his wife, Virginia.

Williamson and Hailperin taught a combined 55 years at Lehigh and continued to serve the university after retiring. Hailperin worked many years for the Learning Center—now called the Center for Academic Success—tutoring students in mathematics.

“A natural impulse”

Williamson and his wife, who worked in Lehigh’s department of modern languages and literatures, immersed themselves in the school through acts of philanthropy that have included gifts to Lehigh’s libraries and to the sociology and anthropology department.

Both men, joined by Ruth Hailperin, recently sat for an hourlong interview at Moravian Village. While health shortcomings caused them at times to struggle to remember events or faces, they said they remain determined and enthusiastic about lifelong learning.

“If my eyes were decent, I’d still be writing,” said Williamson, who has macular degeneration. “It’s a natural impulse for me, research and writing.”

Hailperin, the more soft-spoken of the two, believes he can contribute academically.

“I still have interesting ideas on the applications of mathematics and logic,” he said.

Both men came to the Lehigh Valley from out of the area. Williamson, a native of Los Angeles, earned degrees at UCLA and the University of Southern California. He arrived at Lehigh in 1963 when the university created the sociology and anthropology department, then known as social relations.

Hailperin, who was born in Newark, N.J., was the youngest in a family of eight children. After graduating from high school in 1932, he worked for three years to help the family during the Great Depression.

Despite the time he had to take away from studies, he said, his three brothers encouraged him to pursue college. In 1939, he earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where he was awarded a prestigious prize for an essay on mathematics. Four years later, he graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D.

Logic based on probability

Hailperin joined the Lehigh faculty in 1946 and became professor emeritus in 1980. Williamson retired in 1984 after 21 years of teaching.

Hailperin has published several books and some 45 scholarly articles. According to amazon.com, his most recent book builds on a topic he introduced in a previous book, Sentential Probability Logic, in which “the usual true-false semantics for logic is replaced with one based more on probability.”

Logic with a Probability Semantics “also contains a novel treatment of the problem of combining evidence,” according to the website.

“He has to explain it to me,” says Ruth Hailperin, who is herself a retired mathematics professor at Moravian College. “It’s very esoteric.”

“I’m glad I married her,” Hailperin chimes in about his wife, who at 93 recently retired from her active involvement in the New Bethany Ministries soup kitchen, a program she founded.

Through their decades of learning, the venerable professors have learned how to appreciate life as they both near the century mark.

“I think we’re both very lucky in that we are what we are in our late 90s,” says Williamson. “But we ain’t quite what we were.”

Williamson, coincidentally, co-authored a book in 1992 titled Early Retirement: Promises and Pitfalls. His six other books cover a wide range of topics, including Pennsylvania Dutch and other “minority languages,” Latin American cultures and societies, social psychology, marriage and family relations, and sex roles.

Judith Lasker knows both scholars well: A cousin of Hailperin’s, she was hired to the faculty by Williamson.

“Sometimes we at Lehigh too easily forget about people once they’re not on campus,” says Lasker, a professor of sociology. “But many academics continue to carry out research and publish even after they retire.

“I think we should honor the accomplishments of people who have worked here for many years.

“These two men are truly extraordinary in what they have contributed to their fields as well as to Lehigh.”


Photos by John Kish IV

Story by Anthony Salamone

Posted on Thursday, July 11, 2013

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