Prosser Gifford, of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, scholar, author, academician, died peacefully in his home on July 5, 2020 with family by his side. He was 91. Prosser led a self-described “life of learning” and thrived on rigorous intellectual debate. Prosser was born May 16, 1929 in New York City, the only child of Barbara Prosser and John A. Gifford. He earned degrees from Yale University in 1951; Merton College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1953; Harvard Law School in 1956; and a PhD in History from Yale University in 1964. Lured by Calvin Plimpton, President of Amherst College, he became the first Dean of the Faculty at Amherst in 1967.
Prosser wrote that his proudest achievements during his 12-year tenure as Dean were leading the commission that resulted in Amherst College Trustees admitting women in 1974 and increasing the number of women faculty members from one when he arrived to 26 when he left in 1979. After leaving Amherst College he became Deputy Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, convening scholars from around the world to collaborate on research, writing, and discussion of world issues.
The Wilson Quarterly described Prosser as an “exemplar of the strenuous life.” Prosser served as Director of Scholarly Programs at the Library of Congress from 1990 until his retirement in 2005. He was the first director of the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress that brought together some of the world’s eminent thinkers and supervised the selection of the $1 million Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities and social sciences. In 2005, Prosser and his wife Deedee moved from Washington, DC to Woods Hole, MA. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Marine Biological Laboratory for 13 years, President of the Woods Hole Public Library, and an active member of the Church of the Messiah.
Prosser’s great passion was sailing. He met his wife Deedee in a sailing race in Woods Hole when he was 11 years old and she was nine. He crewed for the Bermuda Race half a dozen times and raced trans-Atlantic twice, once a hurricane-filled trial from New York to Spain. He captained his own boat the Windhover 28 times between Woods Hole and Solomons Island, Maryland. Prosser was married to Shirley M. “Deedee” for 56 years until her death in 2010. He is survived by his three loving daughters, Barbara, Paula and Heidi; their respective spouses Bill Shimer, Chris McKenzie, and George Melas-Kyriazi, and his six grandchildren: Eliot and Sophie Shimer; Jessica and Melanie McKenzie; and Luke and Lily Melas-Kyriazi. He was an adored father and revered grandfather and will be missed tremendously.
Prosser will be remembered for his kindness, his gentleness, his generosity of spirit and mind, and most distinctly his signature laugh that could be identified anywhere and is known by all who met him. A private burial will take place at the Church of the Messiah in Woods Hole, MA. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the Yale University Library: giving.yale.edu/supportProsserGifford or the Woods Hole Public Library woodsholepubliclibrary.org/
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Published in New York Times on Jul. 19, 2020.
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