Manfred Schweitzer, 93, Park principal

August 11, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Manfred Schweitzer, an educator who fled Nazi Germany and later became upper school principal at the Park School, died of dementia Monday at a nursing home in Lexington, Mass. He was 93.

Mr. Schweitzer was born and raised in Berlin, the only child of Jewish parents, and was a student at Berlin University in the early 1930s.

"His world view was formed by coming of age in Depression-era Berlin. In his early 20s, he was the leader of the Berlin University Socialist Student Union, an active anti-Nazi group," said his son, Thomas M. Schweitzer of Cambridge, Mass.

"Targeted by the Nazis, he left Germany for France in 1933. He returned to Berlin in 1936 and left again for France in 1939. His parents chose to remain and died in Auschwitz in 1944," he said.

Mr. Schweitzer managed to escape from France just weeks before the country surrendered after the German invasion in 1940. After arriving in New York City aboard the French liner Ile de France, he married a friend from home, the former Hilde Rothschild.

After living for several months in the Dominican Republic, they settled in Forest Park in 1941 and moved to Mount Washington in 1958.

Mr. Schweitzer earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University and in 1948 earned a master's degree in Spanish from Middlebury College.

Fluent in Spanish, French, German and Latin, Mr. Schweitzer joined the Park School faculty in 1944, where he taught Spanish in the upper school. He was promoted to assistant principal in 1954 and to principal of the upper school in 1959. He was acting headmaster for a year before retiring in 1980.

"He was tough but compassionate and demanded the best out of students and teachers. He always had the best interests of the students at heart," said Brooks Lakin, who retired from Park in 2001 after teaching history for 41 years.

James R. Howard III, now director of student services and security at Park, was a young environmental science teacher when he joined the faculty in 1966.

"He took me under his wing, and I learned a great deal from him. He always encouraged you to try new things," he said. "He was also the embodiment of the Park School philosophy. He lived and breathed it. He believed that positive reinforcement meant positive results."

Mr. Schweitzer, who was known as "Manny" to faculty and administrators, was called "Doc" by the students.

"They thought he had a Ph.D., but he didn't," Mr. Howard said.

"He was very European and rakish and spoke with a pronounced German accent that he never lost. And he was a great advocate for kids who struggled," recalled Julie C. Schwait, a member of the Class of 1968 and now director of annual giving at the school in Brooklandville.

Ms. Schwait recalled him as an occasional disciplinarian.

"I remember he suspended my senior privileges after I cut school to go to the Flower Mart. I knew he had to enforce the rules and it was only for a day or two. However, it was so embarrassing because I was such a goody-two-shoes," she said, laughing.

Mr. Schweitzer also introduced a measure of cheerfulness to break the tedium of long faculty meetings.

"If a meeting spilled over into the evening, he'd bring out a bottle of sherry for all of us to enjoy," Mr. Howard said.

Mr. Schweitzer and his wife, who died last year, had moved to Cambridge, Mass., in 2001.

Plans for a memorial service at Park School were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to his son, Mr. Schweitzer is survived by two grandsons.

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