Newton Garver, a University at Buffalo philosophy professor, peace activist and founder of an education fund for impoverished Bolivians, died Feb. 8 after a long illness at his East Concord home. He was 85.
Mr. Garver devoted his life to his beliefs in social justice, sometimes taking unpopular stands. As a young UB professor with four children in 1964, he risked dismissal and joined five other colleagues in refusing to sign a loyalty oath not to teach about overthrowing the government, among other things. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in their favor.
“Did that mean it was illegal to advocate the Montgomery bus boycott?” he later wrote. “It was a wonderful victory for the university (even though it officially lost).”
Mr. Garver earned degrees from Swarthmore College and Oxford and Cornell universities. He had a special interest in the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and wrote six books and more than a hundred articles. He lectured internationally, organized conferences, led the Faculty Senate, was promoted to distinguished professor and collaborated with a history department colleague on a seminar on “Human Rights in Theory and Practice.”
A Buffalo native, the son of an M&T Bank vice president, and a graduate of Nichols School, Mr. Garver became active in the peace movement at 18, when he appalled his parents by publicly burning his draft card in San Francisco.
He impressed his future wife, Anneliese, who fled East Germany after World War II, with his strong convictions.
“It was not much different from what I had come to believe,” said Mrs. Garver. “I lived through a war. I realized how terrible it was. … It was just so insane – what human beings could do to each other.”
They met at Cornell when she was a campus photographer and he was a graduate student.
Their 56-year marriage included some harrowing times because of Mr. Garver’s principled positions.
In the early 1960s, he was spokesman for a group protesting the U.S. approach to the Cuban missile crisis and a co-founder of a “Citizens Council on Human Relations,” advocating racial integration and equality. During that period, he was labeled a “communist,” Mrs. Garver remembered. The family was harassed with death threats and late-night phone calls.
“I am waiting for you; why don’t you come over?” Mrs. Garver remembers telling one tormentor. Another time, she sent away a delivery of funeral flowers, saying that her husband “just walked up to the campus. He is fine.”
After he retired from UB in 1995, Mr. Garver joined an effort to help Bolivian Quakers, who were part of an impoverished community. Because they didn’t have easy access to schools, he founded an education fund to pay for computers, dormitories, teacher apprenticeships and scholarships.
“Students have gone on to become dentists and become really viable productive members of the community and provide services really needed in that country,” said Julia Garver, his daughter.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Garver is survived by three daughters, Julia, Cecily Garver and Miriam McGiver; a son, Geoffrey; a brother, Ted; and five grandchildren.
A memorial service was held in the Orchard Park Quaker Meeting House.