Robert B. Edgerton passed away following a stroke in July, 2016 at the age of 84. Professor Edgerton had a distinguished 47-year career at UCLA. He wrote or edited over 30 books, 45 peer-reviewed articles, and countless chapters, forewords, and reviews. He was renowned for his elegant and wry style of writing and lecturing, and much beloved by students and colleagues. His intellectual contribution to the medical and human sciences was to provide a cultural and social context for understanding mental illness and the disabilities that afflict so many, and to understand the experiences of people in their local community context from their own moral and emotional points of view.
Edgerton’s publications, such as The Cloak of Competence (1967, revised 1993), The Individual in Cultural Adaptation (1971), and Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony (1992) represent a lifetime of commitment to exploring the definition and boundaries of human nature.
Edgerton’s career included the distinction of being the first UCLA School of Medicine faculty member to be appointed to the position of University Professor in 1996. The title is reserved for scholars of the highest international distinction who are recognized and honored as the top scholars on their campus and are respected as teachers of exceptional ability.
Edgerton was elected Fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award at UCLA in 1974 and mentored and inspired innumerable students. He served as President of the Society for Medical Anthropology (1976–77) and President of the Society for Psychological Anthropology (1985–6) (from which he also received the Distinguished Career Research Award in 2007). He delivered the AAA Distinguished Lecture, “Anthropology Tomorrow,” in 2004.
Edgerton taught his students and colleagues more than rigorous scholarship. Jill E. Korbin noted:
Bob had a limitless reservoir of curiosity about and interest in others and found the expression of human’s curiosity about one another in anthropology. He gave his students the true love and awe of the cultural context. He taught by example that in human behavior and human nature everything is interesting and everything is important if you just look and listen and pay attention. Bob set a standard for generosity and kindness and respect for others.
One of Edgerton’s most memorable traits noted by his students and colleagues was compassion. “His erudition was only surpassed by his kindness and compassion,” said Thomas W. Ward. Jennifer Furin summarized his contributions and influence:
Bob taught me so many things about health and social justice, but three remain the most important to me. And l learned these best not just from his words but from his actions. The first thing Bob taught me was to keep an open mind and to be curious. The second thing Bob taught me was to always strive to be better, even when it seems you are at the pinnacle of your career. The third thing that Bob taught me was that kindness and compassion are far more important than proving that one is smarter or right.
Edgerton is survived by his wife, Karen L. Ito (Edgerton) who has established the Robert B. Edgerton Endowed Graduate Student Award in memory of his legacy as a distinguished scholar, teacher, colleague, and friend. If you would like to make a gift to this fund that supports UCLA anthropology graduate students across the four subfields of anthropology, please visit the department’s online giving page: http://giving.ucla.edu/Edgerton If you wish to donate by check, please make your gift payable to The UCLA Foundation, memo line: Robert Edgerton Endowed Graduate Student Award Fund or Fund #82315E and send to UCLA College of Letters and Science, 1309 Murphy Hall, Box 951413, Los Angeles, CA 90095. (Karen L. Ito)