J. William Fredrickson

1917-1990

by Zenos Hawkinson

Friends and colleagues worldwide have been saddened by the death of J. William Fredrickson on 25 January after a gallant struggle against a cancer for which he had surgery last June.

During his 46 years of service, Bill taught Economics, Economic History, and Social Science to more than two generations of North Park College students and was a Fullbright Lecturer to Finnish students, as well. As founder and first President of Chicago's North River Commission in 1962, he taught hope and effective techniques to people who wanted to revive their neighborhoods but didn't know how.

As an economist, Bill understood the meaning of investment; he took the long view, resisting those "quick fixes" that promised superficial, immediate results. A determined pragmatist, his mind was open to combinatory possibilities in each situation as it developed; his spirit was open to cooperation with all sorts and conditions of people. He remained himself, but his self was always immensely curious, searching out new possibilities and trying them on for size. As a result, he won the support of an amazing variety of people who were perhaps more fascinated by the man than willing, at first, to support his cause.

Bill was an unembarrassed pietist. He was alive and happy in the face-to-face fellowship of small groups, where dialogue was open and story counted for more than abstract propositions. He was, as a pietist, a mainline Christian of ecumenical spirit, profoundly at home with both the Latin and the Swedish fathers. He was impatient with sectarian contentiousness as well as state church condescension. Against the one he employed good humored whimsy — against the other, some choice quotation from Augustine or Luther, just to put snobbery on notice

A man of immense but graceful learning, Bill's omnivorous reading habits became legend in his own time. His curiosity fed upon itself, question generating question in complex layers of consideration and appreciation, catholic as to subject, open as to relationship and conclusion. He could come from almost any direction to the center of the question. And for him, though he seldom said so, and then with no more than a very private smile, the center of the question, almost always, was God.

At his memorial service a throng of friends rose as one to sing, through tears, "Amazing Grace." It was the hymn he had requested at a service some weeks before, When asked why, he had said, "Because I need it."

Peace to the memory of this good man!

See all articles by Zenos Hawkinson