common good


Joe Phillips, Pete Thompson,
Lin Urban, and Bernard Smith
The College mourns the recent losses of four community members: a beloved member of the Public Safety staff and three esteemed emeritus faculty members.

Joe Phillips

, a Public Safety shuttle driver, died Dec. 15 at age 57.

A Ridley Township native known by his friends as “Porkchop,” Phillips had driven for the College on the 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift since joining Swarthmore in 2008. An avid local sports enthusiast, he supported Ridley Area Little League, Monsignor Bonner High School baseball, and Ridley JR ABA, which helps children develop basketball as well as life skills.

“Joe’s joy of life was contagious,” says Public Safety Office Manager Mary Lou Lawless. “He had such pride and joy in his family; there was always a story or an update that was followed by his great laugh. Joe represented his Ridley spirit with an enthusiasm that was impressive.”

Headshot of Joe Phillips wearing a dark jacket.
Joe Phillips

Pete Thompson

, a professor emeritus of chemistry, died Jan. 13 at age 91.

Thompson joined Swarthmore’s faculty in 1958, having published a number of articles on the behavior of aqueous electrolyte solutions. At that time, quantum mechanics was not taught as part of the physical chemistry curriculum, nor had it been part of Thompson’s own training. Recognizing this notable deficiency, he learned the material on his own and taught the College’s first courses on the topic, reshaping the department’s curriculum in the process.

“In all of his work, Pete remained laser-focused on the question, ‘What is in the best interests of the students?’” says Tom Stephenson, the James H. Hammons Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “This dedication drove his famous, or infamous, commitment to rigor in his courses, his development of beautifully elegant and meticulous lab experiments, and his long hours spent working side by side with research students on exacting thermodynamic measurements and calculations.”

Headshot of Pete Thompson, smiling, looking up, and wearing glasses.
Pete Thompson

P. Linwood Urban

, the Charles and Harriett Cox McDowell Professor Emeritus of Religion, died Jan. 29 at age 96.

An ordained Episcopal priest, Urban joined Swarthmore’s faculty as an instructor in philosophy in 1957, and his persistent efforts to establish religion as its own department began soon after his arrival. Urban taught a wide range of courses in Western religious thought, spanning periods from Constantine to Martin Luther King Jr., as well as in the philosophy of religion, the Bible, and comparative theology. He also taught a seminar in non-Western thought that included archaic and classical Indian traditions.

“When I think of Lin, I think of his love of teaching and of his dedication to Swarthmore,” says Ellen Ross, the Howard M. and Charles F. Jenkins Professor of Quakerism and Peace Studies. “Lin was always gracious, welcoming, and supportive. Graduates returning to the College over the years speak of how much he meant to them.”

Black-and-white photo of P. Linwood Urban, laughing and wearing a suit
P. Linwood Urban

Bernard Smith

, a professor emeritus of history and a key inspiration to the College’s Medieval Studies Program, died Jan. 31 at age 95.

A medievalist with a reputation as a demanding yet inspiring teacher, Smith joined Swarthmore in 1967 after having worked at the British Foreign Office and the BBC. His research and courses centered on 11th- and 12th-century monasticism, medieval intellectual history, German medieval history, and late-medieval Europe. The Medieval Studies Program, drawing from history as well as classics, art history, and religion, among other subjects, offered its first major in the 1971–72 academic year.

“Bernard was a brilliant medieval historian who knew early British and European history intimately and taught it with a keen intellect and wry wit,” says Craig Williamson, the Alfred H. and Peggi Bloom Professor of English Literature. “He was a mentor to me and to other medievalists who came to Swarthmore and was a good friend and guiding light to many of us.”

Headshot of Bernard Smith
Bernard Smith