UC Berkeley NewsView of Campanile and Golden Gate Bridge
Today's news & events
Berkeleyan home
Berkeleyan archive
News by email
For the news media
Calendar of events
Top stories
Untitled Document

Obituaries: Donald Davidson and Frank Falkner

10 September 2003


Donald Davidson, left, and Frank Falkner

Donald Herbert Davidson
Renowned philosopher Donald Herbert Davidson, the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, died on Aug. 30. He suffered cardiac arrest on Aug. 27, hours after knee-replacement surgery at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley. He was 86 years old.

Davidson was recognized as one of the most influential philosophers of his generation.

“He wrote on just about every issue in philosophy. He was a broad systematic philosopher — he saw how issues in metaphysics, mind and psychology all fit together,” says Ernest Lepore, director of cognitive science at Rutgers University.

Davidson came to Berkeley in 1981, after holding positions at Queen’s College in New York, Princeton University, Rockefeller University, the University of Chicago, and Stanford University.

Born in Springfield, Mass., Davidson received his undergraduate and master’s degrees and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. His early interest was literature, and his graduate work was in classical philosophy. His studies were interrupted by service in the U.S. Navy, from 1942-45. He received his Ph.D. in 1949.

Davidson’s first major philosophical publication — one said to have revolutionized the way philosophers thought about reason and action — was “Actions, Reasons and Causes,” published in 1963. In that paper, he argued that reasons can both explain actions and also be their cause.

Thomas Nagel, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, says Davidson’s work in the philosophy of language changed the field.

“Since Descartes, it was assumed we understood ourselves better than the rest of the world, and we had to construct the objective reality outside of ourselves,” Nagel notes. “The path was to get ourselves out of the egocentric predicament. Davidson really tried to reverse that. Understanding ourselves depends on understanding we are part of a real world in communication with others.”

Davidson had a huge appetite for life and many diverse interests. In 1939, he spent time in Hollywood writing radio scripts for Big Town, a weekly private-eye program starring Edward G. Robinson. He traveled widely (most recently this summer, to Tanzania), “took enormous pleasure in the natural world,” Nagel says, and “had a lot of deep knowledge of music and literature, as well as being athletic.” He was a skier and had a pilot’s license.

“I met him in the ’60s, after his surfing days,” said former student and Berkeley colleague Bruce Vermazen, professor emeritus of philosophy. “He’s definitely the smartest person I ever knew well; maybe the smartest person I’ve ever met. I always found him to be tough-minded, but very kind.”

Davidson is survived by his wife of 19 years, philosopher Marcia Cavell; a daughter, Elizabeth Davidson, of Albany, Calif.; two grandchildren; and a sister, Jean Baldwin, of Guilford, Conn.
— Carol Hyman

Frank Tardrew Falkner
Professor Emeritus Frank Tardrew Falkner, former head of the campus’s maternal and child health program and an internationally recognized leader in the field of pediatric growth and development, has died at age 84. Falkner, who had prostate cancer, died in his sleep at his Berkeley home on Thursday, Aug. 21.

Known by his friends and colleagues as both a modern-day Renaissance man and a consummate gentleman, Falkner left an imprint in fields as disparate as child health research and professional auto racing.

During his career, which spanned more than 55 years, Falkner published more than 160 papers and led several major studies on child development. His research on how child and infant development can impact adult health helped lead to the first international growth standards. At a time when fetal health was still a new focus in pediatrics, Falkner was an early advocate of more research into fetal growth and its impact on health after birth.

“Frank Falkner had a profound effect on the thinking of a whole generation of physicians working to understand disturbances in growth among children and infants,” says Melvin Grumbach, professor emeritus and former chair of pediatrics at UC San Francisco, where Falkner held a joint appointment as professor of pediatrics.

Born in Hale-Cheshire, England, in 1918, Falkner received his medical education in the midst of World War II. Unable to join the frontline because a childhood bout with polio osteomyelitis, he received his clinical training at two London hospitals during the “Blitz,” Nazi Germany’s intense bombing of the city, and earned his medical degree from the University of Cambridge in 1945.

In 1956, Falkner joined the faculty of the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky, where he soon became chair of the Department of Pediatrics. There, Falkner was one of the first researchers to study twins as a way of evaluating genetic versus environmental influences on growth.

Twelve years later, he became program director and then associate director at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

In 1970, he became director of the Fels Longitudinal Study of Physical Growth and Develop-ment, the oldest and largest growth study in the world. Data from that study form the basis of the North American Standard Tables of Height and Weight, which physicians have used for years to monitor children’s physical growth.

Falkner held faculty positions at various universities before joining UC in 1981. During his tenure at Berkeley and UCSF, he helped form the two campus’s Joint Health and Medical Sciences Program.

At Berkeley, he served as chair of the former Department of Social and Administrative Health Sciences from 1983 to 1987, and of the Maternal and Child Health Program from 1981 until his retirement in 1989.

He co-edited two editions of Human Growth: A Comprehensive Treatise, widely considered the first comprehensive treatment of the topic, and was editor-in-chief of the International Child Health Journal. He served as a U.S. diplomat with the Family Health Division of the World Health Organization and as coordinator at the Centre International de L’Enfance Growth Studies in Paris.

Falkner was also an accomplished musician who once considered becoming a concert pianist. He composed and performed in the world-famous Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, which counts such notable actors as Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie as past members. After suffering a debilitating stroke in 1998, he used his piano playing as a form of therapy.

A member of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, Falkner was an avid race-car enthusiast and, whenever possible, coordinated his attendance at medical conferences with Grand Prix events. He served as the unofficial “team doctor” for several giants in the field of motor sport. Among his friends were Ken Tyrrell, founder of the Tyrrell Racing Formula One Team, and John Cooper, founder of the Cooper Car Company, both of whom died in recent years.

Falkner’s connections helped him launch the career of race-car champion Danny Sullivan, a childhood friend of Falkner’s son, Michael. Not only did Frank Falkner send Sullivan to driving school in England, he persuaded Tyrrell to give Sullivan a driving test. Tyrrell hired Sullivan, who went on to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1985 and the 1988 CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) championship.

One week before Falkner’s death, Sullivan carried Falkner from the house into the passenger seat of a new Porsche and gave the racing enthusiast one last ride around the block.

Falkner is survived by his daughter, Sally Letzer, of Calabasas, Calif.; his son, Michael Falkner, of Wiernsheim-Pinache, Germany; and two grandchildren. His former wife, June Dixon Falkner, died in 2000.
— Sarah Yang