Irving Adler remembered for strong will, brave stand

Monday October 1, 2012


Staff Writer

SHAFTSBURY -- Eminent in many fields, an author, mathematician, scientist and educator, Irving Adler called Shaftsbury home for five decades. After his passing Sept. 22 at age 99, a celebration of Adler's life is planned on his birth day in Clinton, Conn. on April 27, 2013.

While daughter Peggy Adler said her father requested no funeral nor eulogy, friends and family remembered the man this week for his professional and personal contributions. "He did a lot of good work in the community," said long-time friend and neighbor Ruth Levin. Active in politics and public affairs, "he was good-hearted and generous in many ways," she said.

Naomi Bindman of North Bennington, the granddaughter of Adler's second wife Joyce Sparer, said she and her two brothers moved into the Adlers' home as children and were welcomed as family. "He was a mentor and guide and father," said Bindman, "who really showed me what it is to be human." Adler was "deeply, deeply committed to peace and justice," meriting a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 from the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont.

Born in New York City and educated in public schools, Adler matriculated from high school at age 11 and received a bachelor's degree magna cum laude from New York's City College in 1931 at age 18. Adler married first wife Ruth Relis in 1935 and taught mathematics in New York City high schools until his dismissal in 1954 for "insubordination and conduct unbecoming a teacher" after refusing to answer "are you now or have you ever been" a communist during the height of the McCarthy era.

Invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, Adler refused to answer questions before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. He had joined the American Communist Party in 1935. (He withdraw in 1956 after the party's support of the Soviet invasion of Hungary.) The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the mass dismissal of teachers in Adler vs. Board of Education in 1952, but that ruling was later overturned as unconstitutional in 1967.

Adler taught at Columbia University, where he received his doctorate, and later, at Bennington College. In 1953, Adler served one year as national director of the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions.

In Vermont, Adler served on school boards for Shaftsbury and Mount Anthony Union. Through the 1960s, Adler led the Vermont in Mississippi Project, a civil rights organization that helped build a community center in Jackson, Miss. In 1963, Irving and Ruth Adler were the principal organizers of a southern Vermont contingent to the March on Washington, D.C., where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.

The bulk of his career as author focused on science and mathematics for children, teens, and adults. Less than 48 hours before the fatal stroke, Peggy Adler said she placed an advanced copy of a re-issue of his book "A New Look at Geometry," due out in October, in her father's hands.

The 87th book that Irving Adler authored or co-authored, "Solving the Riddle of Phyllotaxis," a collection of previously published scientific papers studying the arrangement of leaves on plants and spiral patterns in nature, was released this month five days after his death. His papers served as the basis for a revival of interest in the subject in the 1970s.

In a New York Times review of a 1968 mathematics book, author Isaac Asimov called Adler's "new math" a "cry for something better" in the face of rote learning that "forever embittered a child against education."

Adler's books have sold more than four million copies. The prolific author helped spur the vocation in his children and friends, including next door neighbors Ellen and Phil Viereck in Shaftsbury, who he helped to publish their first book.

"He had us up to dinner regularly," said Ellen Viereck, describing Adler as terribly organized and insistent on doing things himself. For exercise in later years, Adler would walk the deck of his home in Shaftsbury, which he built himself and lived in till 2010, when he moved to assisted living in Bennington.

Adler's first wife Ruth died in 1968, and he remarried later that year. Joyce died in 1999. Acquainted with both, Viereck described his two wives as total opposites. "I'm amazed he could adjust to live with both of them."

Adler is survived by daughter Peggy and son Stephen, step-daughter Laura Wallace, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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