William F. Pelham, 79, professor of physics at Towson University

May 23, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William F. Pelham, a retired Towson University physics professor who photographed nature and still-life scenes, died of cancer Thursday at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Tuscany-Canterbury resident was 79.

Born in Queens, N.Y., and raised on Long Island, he earned a degree in chemical engineering at Clarkson Institute of Technology in Potsdam, N.Y. During World War II he served in the Navy, where he worked in an experimental gunnery unit based at Norfolk, Va.

After the war, he earned a master's degree and doctorate in science education at Columbia University and simultaneously taught at Manhattan College.

After moving to Baltimore in 1955, he joined the science department of what was then Towson State Teachers College, where he remained for 35 years. He taught many courses but concentrated in physics and was department chairman.

"He was a master teacher and could explain fundamental concepts in physics with extreme clarity, excitement and wit," said a colleague and friend, Henry Chen, who lives in Towson. "It became understood that if Bill Pelham taught a course, it would turn out to be a gem."

Dr. Pelham was elected to the school's faculty senate for many years.

"At times he could be a critical voice, but people respected his intellect," Dr. Chen said. "Bill was a good speaker in the faculty senate. He was bright and was a marvelous conversationalist. He loved to tell stories, and he talked the way he lectured, sometimes with a finger in the air."

More than 60 years ago, Dr. Pelham took up black-and-white photography and later built a darkroom in his residence when he lived in Homeland. He often worked in available light and a Nikon camera. He later worked in color.

He also taught a course in photography at Towson. He made still-life and scenic photographs, which he exhibited at School 33 and other locations.

He was a member of the Maryland Chapter of Artists Equity for many years, and served as its president.

He was also one of the early presidents of Maryland Art Place.

"He had wonderful sense of humor, a dry wit and a twinkle in his eye," said Mary Ann Mears, a sculptor, friend and founder of Maryland Art Place. "He was a meticulous photographer. He had a scientist's love of natural phenomena and an aesthetic appreciation that played out in his photography."

"He was very fond of jazz, and he shared his large collection of CDs," said Terry Dymski, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County physics professor who lives in Towson. "He was a discerning jazz person who admired the work of piano player Bill Evans."

Dr. Pelham retired from Towson University in 1990. He then began to travel the world and every two months began another journey. Friends recalled he enjoyed holding dinner parties and serving martinis.

His wife of 52 years, the former Marilyn Neely, is a retired Florence Crittenton Services and Baltimore County special education teacher.

No funeral is planned.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Christopher Pelham of Warren, Conn., and Anthony Pelham of Port Orange, Fla.; a daughter, Celia Pelham of Maplewood, N.J.; a brother, Thomas Pelham of Cocoa Beach, Fla.; and four grandchildren.

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