Former UC Irvine chancellor and UC president Jack Peltason, known to family and friends for his wit and easygoing nature, died Saturday at the age of 91.
He battled Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system, for more than a decade. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne; children Nancy, Tim and Jill; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
“He was a delightful person, a wonderful father, easygoing, easy to please … an adoring grandfather and loved by his great-grandchildren,” Tim Peltason said. “My sisters and I felt incredibly lucky to be his children.”
In 1963, Peltason was appointed as dean of the College of Arts, Letters, and Science at UC Irvine, according to the UCI Libraries website. The following year, he was named UC Irvine’s second vice chancellor of academic affairs and helped guide the creation of UC Irvine’s original academic plan.
Beginning in 1984, Peltason also served an eight-year tenure as UC Irvine’s second chancellor, during which the campus experienced rapid growth, according to the UCI Libraries site. He created the UCI Medal, now recognized as the campus’s highest honor.
“He was never stuffy — he was never all-important,” said James McGaugh, a fellow founding faculty member at UC Irvine and Peltason’s friend of 61 years. “You would never know he had such important positions. He was just Jack Peltason.”
When Peltason served as UC president from 1992 to 1995, he stabilized the UC budget by reaching an agreement with then-governor Pete Wilson. Despite those three difficult years, he left a legacy of calm temperament and good judgment through various trials, Tim Peltason said. In times of particular hardship, Peltason would look at a picture of his granddaughter that he kept on his desk to help him keep perspective and carry on.
“He was always just Dad to me,” Tim Peltason said. “When he became president of the UC system, I had a new and more vivid appreciation for what a remarkable career he had.”
Peltason was born Aug. 29, 1923, in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Missouri. In his early career, he taught at Smith College and served as a dean at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
A noted scholar of constitutional law, Peltason co-authored “Government by the People,” a textbook on American democracy.
“Jack was an inspiration to me when I was a graduate student studying politics and law,” said Howard Gillman, current chancellor of UC Irvine, in a statement. “One of the great privileges of coming to UCI was getting to know him, and benefitting from his wisdom, advice and good humor.”
After retiring in 1995 at the age of 72, Peltason remained active in several community and professional organizations and was the recipient of various honors and distinctions. Last year, UC President Janet Napolitano presented him with the UC Presidential Medal, which recognizes extraordinary contributions to the university.