Michael Wreszin, Queens College professor emeritus of history, died August 12, 2012 at the age of 85.
A charismatic teacher, he inspired generations of students first at Wayne State University and Brown University and then for many years at Queens College. He challenged his students to question conventional wisdom, to think deeply about history and society, to approach life with passion and conviction, to not settle for lives governed by material ends, but to lead purposeful and rewarding lives that would improve the human condition.
He was also a highly respected scholar. He was the author of biographies of Oswald Garrison Villard (1965), Alfred Jay Nock (1971), and Dwight Macdonald (1994), as well as editor of a collection of Macdonald’s letters. It was his biography of Macdonald, A Rebel in Defense of Tradition, that marked his greatest scholarly achievement. Wreszin understood the iconoclastic and rebellious Macdonald because he shared so much of Macdonald’s impatience with and disdain for pomposity and unwarranted authority. Like Macdonald, he read the The New York Times thoroughly each day and was an inveterate letter writer to The Times, although it rarely printed his letters (he claimed The Times had a wastebasket marked “Wreszin Discard”).
From his time at Wayne State and Brown University in the late 1950s and early 1960s where he demonstrated in Detroit and Providence for fair housing laws through his leadership on the Queens College campus in the ant-Vietnam war protests, to later demonstrations for civil rights and against militarism and war, Wreszin was a political activist who put his body on the line. Wreszin was a wonderful conversationalist and a master of polemical debate; he loved New York City and often quoted Thomas Dewey’s remark that “if you are not in New York, you are camping out.”
But he also loved his summer place in Westport Point where he enjoyed family, entertained friends, and fished for the “wily blue.” Above all, he was a generous and true friend to his large circle of friends. He is survived by his wife, Carol, his son Danny, daughter-in-law, Terri, granddaughter Caroline of Los Angeles, and his daughter Sarah and son-in-law, John, of Providence, Rhode Island.