Dear Rutgers University – Newark community members,

It is with the most profound sadness that I share news of the loss of someone whose consistently thoughtful inquiry and deeply-held democratic values have so strengthened Rutgers University – Newark over the last four decades, as a dedicated scholar, teacher, mentor and academic leader, School of Arts and Sciences Dean Jan Lewis, who passed away today surrounded by her loving family.  Jan was an academic to her core, embracing Rutgers-Newark and all of Rutgers thoroughly and vigorously right out of graduate school 41 years ago, engaging with historians far and wide with similar passion for explicating the complicated narrative of gender, race, and politics in colonial and early U.S. history, and never failing to extend that analysis to the vexing and the uplifting currents of contemporary times.

Jan touched so many of us that we all have our own stories to share, and yet I am sure there will be a theme that unites our experiences and I believe it will have something to do with the quiet but firm fealty with which she persisted in examining the world, holding it to high standards, but never failing to find some humor in our stumbles and to support us nonetheless. She was a brilliant historian who challenged orthodoxies about the fullness of our understanding of early America (and early American heroes), a teacher and mentor who supported her students through triumphs and challenges, a colleague who nurtured the next diverse generation of the professoriate, an academic leader who cultivated boundary-crossing scholars and scholarship across the full breadth of the arts, humanities, and sciences, and a friend whom you could always count on to tell it as it is, no sugar coating from Jan, even as she handed you the latest Donna Leon mystery to take your mind elsewhere, for a time.  And, then, there were the pictures of those two beautiful granddaughters – her inspiration every day.

Thomas Jefferson, in encouraging a friend toward realizing his potential, once wrote, “above all things lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just, firm, orderly, couragious [sic] etc. Consider every act of this kind as an exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties, & increase your worth.”  Jan was among the pioneers in helping us understand the critical ways in which Jefferson, himself, fell far short of this ideal. Yet through her own insightful, incisive, and courageous work as a historian, as a teacher, mentor, and leader at Rutgers-Newark and beyond, and as spouse, parent, grandparent, and friend, she strived to model what living that kind of life could look like—to lose no occasion to be all that we can be for others.

A loss like this can affect us in different and sometimes unexpected ways, so please remember that we have counseling services available for any member of our community. Students at Rutgers University – Newark may contact the Counseling Center at 973-353-5805. Employees across Rutgers may contact University Human Resources/Faculty Staff & Assistance Program at 848-932-3956.

We will share information about memorializing Jan in the coming days. At this difficult moment, our hearts and caring thoughts are with Jan’s husband, Barry, her son James and his family, as well as the countless students, faculty, staff, and friends whom Jan touched, supported, and inspired.  

In shared profound sorrow,

Nancy Cantor