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May 5, 2010

Max Palevsky, 85, dies of heart attack

Max Palevsky (Ph.B. ’48, S.B. ’48), a computer pioneer who remained involved with the University long after graduating, passed away Wednesday. The 85- year-old died of heart failure at his home in Beverley Hills.

A frequent and generous donor to the University, Palevsky has a dormitory, a theater in Ida Noyes Hall, and a University professorship named after him. He also donated millions of dollars to encourage faculty excellence and promote student life. Palevsky served as a University trustee from 1972 to 1982.

“Max Palevsky would often say that the University of Chicago ‘changed his life’ and in his own carefully considered ways he worked to make the transformation that he experienced at Chicago available to others,” said professor Hugo Sonnenschein, University president when Palevsky helped fund the dormitories that bear his name, in a press release. Palevsky “will forever stand tall among those who best represent what our rigorous variety of education makes possible,” Sonnenschein said.

“My whole life has been shaped by the time spent as a College student at Chicago,” he said in a March 1996 interview with the University, after he endowed the Max and Ellen Palevsky Faculty Fund with $5 million. “It gave me a notion of, and enthusiasm for, all that was out there in the world. It gave me a sense of the terrain of learning and of the limitless horizons of discovery.”

Born in Chicago in 1924, Palevsky studied math and philosophy as an undergraduate, according to a University press release, attending the University after returning from military service in World War II. He did graduate work in the same fields at the University, finishing at UCLA.

Palvesky started the Max Palevsky Fund in 1969, which was used to attract scholars to the University. That year, he sold Scientific Data Systems to Xerox for $100 million, AP reported yesterday. Palevsky became Xerox’s chairman, and he helped found, and later chaired, computer-chip maker Intel.

Palevsky’s name is probably best known to students through the Max Palevsky Residential Commons, which were built in 2001, with funding from Palevsky’s $20 million donation towards the expansion of residential life on campus, made one year earlier.

“For most students, college is the first time they’ve lived away from home,” Palevsky said in a July 2000 article in the University of Chicago Chronicle, on his gift to the University. “In this society, there often are not sufficient structures for young people, and I trust it will be an important thing to live in a structured, intellectual community. I’m very happy to be able to make that possible for future generations of Chicago students.”

Palevsky was more than just a University patron. The Chicago native supported the arts as well, donating to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, besides collecting himself. He produced a few movies in the 1970s and 2000s. In 1970, Palevsky bought a large portion of shares in a Rolling Stone, which was having financial trouble at the time, and sat on the board. There he befriended journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who mentioned him in a fictional footnote in “June, 1972: The McGovern Juggernaut Rolls On.”

He supported the political campaigns of Democrats in California, including George McGovern’s 1972 presidential bid. “It was at Chicago that I got my political bearings,” Palevsky said in his 1996 interview. “Not that I was taught to be a Republican or Democrat, but I learned the importance of political discourse in a democratic society.”

A service is being held today at the Max Palevsky Aero Theater in Santa Monica, but there are currently no plans for a memorial on campus, according to University spokesman Jeremy Manier.

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