Obituary: James H. Schwartz 1932-2006

by Peter van Alfen


Prof. James H. Schwartz

ANS Trustee Prof. James (‘Jimmy’) H. Schwartz passed away on March 13, 2006, due to complications from leukemia. A longtime member and supporter of the ANS, Jimmy, together with his first wife, Frances, always showed great concern about the future of the Society, serving on various committees, volunteering time, raising and donating funds, and voicing strong opinions about the future direction and management of the ANS. When Frances died of leukemia in 1984, Jimmy helped establish a memorial fellowship fund in her name, which has since allowed dozens of local graduate and undergraduate students to gain unparalleled experience working with the ANS collections. Jimmy’s main focus was the academic integrity of the institution. He cared about the entire staff, from the guards to the curators. When a few years ago the ANS encountered serious financial difficulties and had to severely cut its staff, it was Jimmy who stood up for the staff, fighting a hard battle. It was typical for him that he donated—right in the midst of this debate—a large endowment fund to the ANS. This fund now supports ANS curatorial activities. In recognition of his service to the ANS, Jimmy was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2002, where he showed a remarkable gift for fundraising while continuing his strong support of the academic activities of the ANS.

Jimmy’s numismatic interests were broad, as can be seen in the collection of material he donated to the ANS in 2004 (accession numbers 2004.14.1-238), but generally centered on the Greco-Roman periods. In recent years, he focused his collecting and research interests on North African Vandalic issues from the fifth century AD, hoping to continue his study of this little-appreciated coinage and following up on his 1982 article in ANS Museum Notes. His other numismatic publications reflect his broad interests as well as his service to the ANS. Having discovered a cache of unpublished gems in the Greek and Roman cabinets, Jimmy and Frances took it upon themselves to publish the collection in a series of articles in the ANS Museum Notes/American Journal of Numismatics, the first of which was completed in 1979. After Frances’ death, Jimmy continued the project with additional articles appearing in 1999 and 2002; his most recent article will appear posthumously in AJN 18 later this year.

His contributions to numismatics, however, pale in comparison to his greater contributions to the field of neurobiology. Following the completion of his medical degree at New York University (1959) and his PhD at Rockefeller University (1964), Jimmy served as professor of microbiology at NYU until joining the faculty at Columbia University (his undergraduate alma mater) in 1974, where he helped to establish the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. As part of an influential Columbia team studying the biochemical basis of leaning and memory, Jimmy, together with Dr. Eric R. Kandel (Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 2000) and Thomas M. Jessel, edited the standard textbook Principles of Neural Science (1979), which is about to appear in its fifth edition. In addition, Jimmy was the author or coauthor of nearly three hundred articles, chapters, reviews, and abstracts.

The proximity of the ANS’s old home in Washington Heights to Jimmy’s office at Columbia meant that Jimmy was a frequent visitor and lunchtime companion for the ANS staff. With the move to Fulton Street making such meetings more difficult, Jimmy’s rarer visits were that much more appreciated. The realization that we can no longer enjoy his quiet charm and wit deeply saddens the ANS staff.

A lifelong resident of Manhattan, Jimmy’s love of the city was perhaps challenged only by his appreciation for the Hamptons, where he and his wife, Dr. Catherine Lipkin, spent most weekends. Jimmy is also survived by his two children Daisy Salzman and Peter, his stepson Jonathan Lipkin, and five grandchildren.