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Published: Wednesday, 1/21/2009

Historian served at BGSU for decades

Virginia Bever Platt, a Bowling Green State University history professor for almost 30 years who in retirement was a university trustee known for her outspokenness, died Thursday in Judson Retirement Community, Cleveland, of pneumonia. She was 96.

She had Alzheimer's disease and moved in 1993 from her longtime home on Wallace Avenue in Bowling Green to the retirement community.

She and her husband, Grover Cleveland Platt, also a historian, came to the BGSU history department after World War II. His specialty was European history. Hers was colonial America, from the work of 18th century women to the triangle trade of slaves, sugar, and rum among Africa, the Caribbean, the colonies, and England.

The couple retired together in 1975, years before the then-mandatory retirement age of 70. They believed a new generation should have stewardship of the history department.

"That says they had high respect for education and the continuance of scholarship, for new faculty to come in and give different points of view," said Clif Boutelle, retired BGSU director of public relations, who lived next door to the Platts.

Mrs. Platt was a natural teacher, her daughter, Carolyn, said.

"She was dynamic in the classroom. I've heard that from ex-students of hers," her daughter said. "But she was a researcher. That's really the way she started."

She did research, wrote articles, and presented papers. In addition, Mrs. Platt had courses to teach and family responsibilities.

"I think she would have concentrated more in [research] if circumstances had been different," her daughter said. "But I always had the sense she loved being a teacher. She always said she had a good life."

The couple, longtime world travelers, rode the Trans-Siberian Railway and took a birding expedition in Kenya after they retired. Her husband died May 30, 1982.

Gov. Richard Celeste named Mrs. Platt to a nine-year term as a BGSU trustee in 1984. She was believed then to be the only retired professor serving as a trustee of the university where she had taught.

"She had a good inside view of the needs of the university, and she was not hesitant in expressing those," Mr. Boutelle said.

A fellow trustee said, in 1987, that she bordered on being a contrarian, voting no for its own sake. She was one of three votes in 1986 against a raise for then-President Paul Olscamp.

Her insight "was a contribution she made to campus," Mr. Boutelle said. "Faculty would talk to her quite a bit [about] what would help campus. She was a strong voice for academic freedom and the rights of faculty and a strong voice for the university itself."

Indeed, she helped write the charter for the BGSU Faculty Senate, on which she served from 1964 to 1975.

She was accustomed to controversy. She and her husband were anti-Vietnam War activists and were harassed for their stand, their daughter said.

Mrs. Platt grew up in Bellingham, Wash. She finished high school at 14 and had a bachelor's degree by 17. She received a master's degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a doctorate from the State University of Iowa.

Her father was a historian and gardener, and so was she. She always returned from her travel adventures with stories, if even of the people she met on the train.

"She was very open and sharing about her own life and [was] very interested in other people's lives," her daughter said. "[She was] a very principled person, a very loving person, and a very, very smart person. I'm not sure I'll ever understand her because she was very complex. But I'm glad she's been here all this time."

Surviving are her daughters, Carolyn Platt and Phyllis Platt, and a granddaughter.

There will be no public visitation or services.

Arrangements are by the Adams-Mason Memorial Chapel, Akron, and the Cremation Society of Ohio.

The family suggests tributes to the Grover and Virginia Platt Memorial Scholarship Fund at BGSU.



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