Amy Apfel Kass, 1940–2015

August 21st, 2015

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Amy Kass, wife of Leon, mother of Sarah and Miriam, and a great teacher and champion for civic education. Collected below are remembrances and tributes from friends and colleagues.

Her obituary: “Through her searching questions, freely yet tenaciously pursued, students were invited to think deeply not only about the works of Homer and Shakespeare, George Eliot and Tolstoy, Tocqueville and Melville, but also about themselves, our common humanity, and the path they might chart toward living a good life.”

William Kristol: “Amy was a truly remarkable woman. A legendary teacher at the University of Chicago and a very fine scholar, she was at once a most perceptive student of great literature and a spirited and enlightened patriot.”

Yuval Levin: “Amy’s teaching and writing were driven by the conviction that the stories we tell shape our souls and bind us together, and by the worry that we too often now fail to take care about how our souls are shaped and how (or whether at all) we are bound together in community.”

Gertrude Himmelfarb: “In her reflections on the teaching of the Great Books, Amy made a large point of the lesson she imparted to her students—that the principles they learned from the Ancients were meaningful only if they were applied to their personal lives.”

Robert P. George: “She was the best kind of patriot—one who loved her country not simply because it was hers, but because its principles, however often we Americans as a people have failed to live up to them, are true and good. Her constant endeavor was to inspire us to live up to them more perfectly.”

William Schambra: “Amy Kass taught us to be better people, better citizens, in a better nation. And she taught us well.”

Gary Schmitt: “As the great teacher she was, Amy understood the need for students to feel like they had discovered some new land themselves… even when she had slipped them the map and compass to get them there.”

UChicago: “When summarizing her UChicago career, she wrote that her lifelong mission was to teach people to ‘read great books slowly and critically, to refine their ideas, to enlarge their sympathies, and to aspire to a richer life beyond self-centered quests for gain, fame or power.’”

Caitrin Keiper: “With wisdom and authority to spare, Amy Apfel Kass, who passed away on August 19, could easily have been a great professor. Instead, she was the greatest of teachers.”

Diana Schaub: “She was, above all else, a teacher, with the patience and humility that requires—humility before the text and author under consideration, humility in the face of the ‘mysterious mixture’ that is human nature, humility in treating her students as potential equals in philosophic conversation.”

Bret Stephens: “Amy Kass’s truest teaching was the way in which she chose to lead her life. It left an indelible mark on mine. May her memory be for a blessing.”

Hyde Park Herald: “Generations of her students benefited from her deep interest in who they were and who they might become. Treating them as better than they knew themselves to be, she enabled them to raise their sights and to aspire to meet her expectations of them.”

Rick Cohen: “Amy Kass found her answers, or the texts that would help stimulate thinking toward answers, in many arenas, and enthrallingly to us, in literature.”

Ido Hevroni: “She was an attentive teacher, sharp, and wise. She encouraged us to speak our minds, and listened closely and patiently to each idea, even if it was incomplete, and she gently guided the speakers to formulations that were clearer and more coherent.”

NAS: “As a teacher she cared deeply for her students’ souls, not just their choices or lifestyles. As an author and speaker she consistently sought to renew readers’ interests in perennial questions while also not shying away from informing and elevating current debate.”

ACTA: “Throughout her life, she cultivated and defended the cultural and political institutions that have been the glory of our nation. She taught the enduring values of civilization, and she modeled them in her own life.”

Quin Hillyer: “A lady rich in mind and heart. . . with a mind fine-tuned, and sensibilities refined, so that she was a joy to converse with.”

Michael Lawrence Wilson: “We read about many different kinds of human excellence, but none of these literary examples struck me as vividly as the example of Mrs. Kass herself: intensely smart but never merely clever or showy; respectful, but not afraid to question or disagree; inclusive; courageous; serious yet also wry, funny and good humored; challenging us all to be better.”

Chicago Tribune: “Amy Apfel Kass taught literature for 34 years at the University of Chicago, where she and her professor husband cofounded a course that explores what it means to be a good citizen and human being.”

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