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For immediate release: Sept. 25, 2002

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown, (609) 258-3601, lauren@princeton.edu


Richard Challener '44, scholar of American history, dies at 79

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Richard Challener, a specialist in American diplomatic and military history and a professor at Princeton for 51 years, died Sept. 23 after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.

Richard Challener"Dick Challener was a splendid and supportive colleague, a devoted institutional citizen and a wonderfully stimulating teacher who engaged, challenged and widened the intellectual and personal horizons of generations of Princeton students," said Nancy Weiss Malkiel, professor of history and dean of the college.

"Losing him at a moment when America's relationship to the rest of the world is of such pressing public concern is especially poignant; his warmth and humanity, his balanced judgment and wise insight, will be sorely missed," she said.

For more than a decade, Challener and Malkiel taught "U.S. History from 1945 to the Present." The course was extremely popular, regularly attracting more than 300 students.

A member of Princeton's class of 1944, Challener's own studies were disrupted by the events of history. He served in the U. S. Army from 1943 to 1946 in the 102nd Infantry, Company A, 1st Battalion. He saw combat in the European theater and was awarded the Combat Infantry Medal and the European Theatre Medal. In 1984, he was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award by the U.S. Army.

After the war, Challener returned to Princeton to graduate in 1947. He joined the history department as an instructor in 1949 and earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1952. He became a professor in 1964 and retired in 1993, but continued to teach for another seven years as a professor emeritus. He taught courses in American diplomatic history, 20th-century American history and Canadian history.

Challener twice chaired the history department and he also chaired the Committee on Canadian Studies. From 1958 to 1966, he was assistant and then associate dean of the college, and from 1986 to 1988 he was clerk of the faculty.

"Dick had deep and long-lasting roots in the life of Princeton University," said Robert Tignor, chair of the history department. "He was especially beloved among concentrators in the department, who sought him out as a junior and senior adviser for their research projects."

Princeton's class of 1994 recognized Challener's extraordinary skill as a teacher and elected him an honorary member of their class.

Having studied the First World War and served in the second, Challener's interests extended to the Cold War. He became an expert on Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his era; one of Challener's lasting contributions to scholarship of that time is the oral history collection of Dulles-era officials at Princeton's Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library.

Challener's first book, "The French Theory of the Nation in Arms, 1866-1940," was published in 1955. His second major book, "Admirals, Generals and American Foreign Policy, 1898-1914," examines the relationship between military and civilian policymakers in the United States. He also served as editor of the journal World Politics.

Challener was heavily involved in alumni education at Princeton. He led many alumni colleges throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1995, he led a group that traveled to Omaha Beach to commemorate D-Day and to study U.S. military history of World War II.

A strong supporter of education, Challener made several commitments to universities and schools other than Princeton. He served on the PTA of Riverside Elementary School and on the board of trustees of Stuart Country Day School and the Hun School, all in or near Princeton. He was on the board of trustees of St. George's School in Newport, R.I., and a member of the board of directors of Lake Forest College in Illinois. He also served as a commissioner on the Commission of Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges from 1978 to 1985.

In honor of Challener's service to Princeton, flags on campus were lowered to half-staff for three days following his death.

Challener is survived by his wife of 55 years, Martha Coate Challener, of Pennington, N.J., and three children: Catherine Challener of Albuquerque, N.M.; Elisbeth Challener Bachman of Los Altos, Calif.; and Daniel Challener '81 of Chattanooga, Tenn., as well as three grandchildren: Brandon, Skye and Dakota.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Princeton University Department of History to support undergraduate thesis research in American diplomatic history and Canadian studies.

A memorial service for Challener is being planned for 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 27, in the Princeton University Chapel.

Editors: Photographs are available online at http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pictures/a-f/challener/.

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