Stanley Wolpert, UCLA professor emeritus of history and prolific author of books about South Asia, has died. He was 91.
Wolpert, who died Feb. 19, is revered for his contributions to literature and the history of South Asia. He published more than a dozen scholarly books including biographies of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru of India as well as biographies of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan. His “New History of India” has appeared in eight editions, and his more general cultural introduction, “India,” is in its fourth edition.
Wolpert’s teaching career at UCLA spanned six decades including time served as chair of the history department and in a vice chancellorship. Campus colleagues, students and the literary world remember him as the epitome of grace and intellect.
“Stanley was always willing to make time for a fellow colleague or student, listening to a problem, or grabbing a sandwich in the sculpture garden,” said Peter Loewenberg, UCLA professor emeritus of history. “He was a wonderful lecturer and captivating teacher. Stanley and his charming, witty, and intelligent wife, Dorothy, were gracious hosts in their Westwood home, often having students, colleagues, faculty, and interesting people over for delicious Indian food prepared by Dorothy.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Wolpert received his bachelor of arts degree from City College of New York, and later his master’s and doctoral degrees in Indian history from the University of Pennsylvania. He arrived at UCLA in 1958 and was promoted to professor in 1967. He was department chair and won the distinguished teaching award in 1975.
Wolpert’s passion for India and its peoples and history was sparked as a young man serving on merchant marine ship. He landed in Bombay just weeks after Gandhi’s death and witnessed the outpouring of grief of a nation that he later wrote “changed the course of my life.”
Former U.S. ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote: “To all of us who call ourselves old India hands, Stanley Wolpert is the acknowledged authority.”
Wolpert’s writing and research had an impact on the countries and cultures that were the focus of his life’s work. A tribute to Wolpert published in the “Pakistan Observer” remarked that his” departure from this life was mourned by thousands of his students and readers from all over the world.”
The publication celebrated Wolpert’s attention to detail, commitment to dispelling stereotypes and his ability to link present and past as well as personal and professional in the subjects of his authorship.
His works “will remain a guiding light to every person and student who wishes to know the complex and convoluted history of Indo-Pakistan and how we emerged out of the clutches of hatred, colonialism and treachery,” according to the publication.
During the Nixon administration, the New York Times published a list compiled by the United States Information Agency of 80 people who should not be invited anywhere to speak on behalf of the United States and Wolpert was proud to have made the list, which also included Walter Cronkite and Arthur Schlesinger, as to him it symbolized his commitment to speaking truth to power.
Several generations of students benefited from and admired not only his knowledge, but his unfailing generosity, said Ron Mellor, UCLA history professor.
Wolpert was also deeply committed to education innovation. He was a recipient of the University Distinguished Service Award. While serving as a vice chancellor he founded the initiative that eventually became the Honors program in the UCLA College of Letters and Science.
Of his four novels, the most notable remains “Nine Hours to Rama,” published in 1961. The fictionalized accounting of the day Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhi was made into an American film directed by Mark Robson the following year. Both book and film were banned in India and remain so to this day.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Dorothy and his sons Daniel and Adam, his daughters-in-law Debra and Katy, as well as three grandchildren, Sam, Max and Sabine.
There will be memorial on May 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the dining room of the UCLA Faculty Center.