Charles Weiss, longtime faculty member, benefactor, cultural enthusiast, dies at 100

December 19, 2018

Charles Weiss, PhD, professor emeritus of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, passed away on Dec. 17. A resident of Carol Woods, in Chapel Hill, N.C., he had celebrated his 100th birthday with a party on Dec. 8.

Born Dec. 7, 1918, Weiss grew up in Newark, N.J., benefiting from his family’s easy access to New York City’s cultural and educational opportunities by becoming an early devotee of music and travel. His Dec. 8 party included a concert by the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, whose work he enjoyed, featuring compositions by Verdi, Rossini and Mozart.

Charles and Shirley Weiss

Charles and Shirley Weiss

After earning an undergraduate degree in bacteriology and limnology (the study of inland waters) from Rutgers University, he worked for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on their first U.S. Navy contract – to prevent barnacles from growing on ships’ hulls and thus improve their speed.

After World War II, he earned a doctorate in sanitary engineering at Johns Hopkins University and worked at an organization that was the precursor to the Environmental Protection Agency. He joined the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty in 1956 and continued to teach there until 1989. While at UNC, he developed one of the first techniques to detect pesticides in water, mentored scores of graduate students and helped to develop several of the Triangle (N.C.) area water supplies, including Jordan Lake.

Weiss was well partnered with his wife Shirley, whom he married in 1942. The two shared interests in academic pursuits, music, travel and the cultural life of cities. The work of Shirley Friedlander Weiss, whose academic expertise was in urban planning, took them to six of the seven continents and countless cities around the world. Shirley Weiss, professor emerita of city and regional planning at UNC, died in 2010.

Together, the Weisses supported 15 funds across campus, including for the Ackland Museum, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, and UNC Libraries. Within The Graduate School, they established the Weiss Urban Livability Fellowship, an interdisciplinary graduate fellowship that provides funding and an interdisciplinary environment in which new students can engage with issues related to urban living. In 1992, they established the Charles M. and Shirley F. Weiss Endowment for Environmental Sciences and Engineering to support fellowships for graduate students in the department.

“Dr. Weiss truly created a lasting legacy of investing in students and giving them the opportunity to improve the quality of life in communities around North Carolina and the world,” said Barbara J. Turpin, PhD, professor and chair of the environmental sciences and engineering department. “This year’s Weiss Scholars are addressing important problems, such as characterization of wildfire emissions, effects of environmental exposures on the microbiome and exposure mapping. They continue his legacy by being at the forefront of sustainable, positive change in environmental research and policy.”

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. at Carol Woods Retirement Community, 750 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill.

Read a tribute to Dr. Weiss by Professor Emeritus Donald Lauria, PhD.

Read an online book about the Weisses commissioned by The Graduate School.

Some of the information provided here was compiled by Dr. Weiss’s biographer, Grace Camblos, and was included in the program for the 100th birthday celebration.


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Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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