Walter K. Sherwin Jr., a founding faculty member of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County who established its ancient studies department, died Tuesday at his home in the Charlestown retirement community from pancreatic cancer.
The longtime Catonsville resident was 79.
“I said to his family the other day that Walter and other members of the founding faculty were always coming back to our campus to support us and our students. He loved our students,” said Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of UMBC.
“Even though he excelled when it came to the classics --- Greek and Latin --- he took the down-to-earth approach when teaching our students,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “He could reach students of all types and inspire them.”
“He thought we should know about the classics because they were the roots of humankind. He was a great scholar who even did work for the Supreme Court,” he said. “He had such a kind smile, was such a gentle man and a great intellect. He encouraged us all.”
The son of Dr. Walter K. Sherwin Sr., a physician, and Reba Sherwin, a registered nurse, Walter Kenneth Sherwin Jr. was born and raised in Wallingford, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
He was a 1956 graduate of Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del., and in 1960 obtained his bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Notre Dame.
Although he was a math major, Dr. Sherwin decided to pursue graduate studies in the classics and received a doctorate in 1966 from Ohio State University.
He joined the UMBC faculty in fall 1966 as the university accepted its first students. The next year, he established the ancient studies department at the Catonsville campus.
The department offered an interdisciplinary study of Latin and Greek, ancient history and archaeology. Dr. Sherwin had served as department chair.
“It was a rotating chair, which he did not mind giving up because he disliked being an administrator,” said Rosalie Levenstein, his wife of 57 years, who is a retired U.S. Supreme Court law librarian.
After studying in Rome on a Fulbright scholarship in 1967, Dr. Sherwin returned to UMBC and founded the university’s study abroad program, now in its 51st year. Over the years, he conducted tours to Oxford, Stonehenge, Salisbury and the Roman ruins at Bath in England, as well as to ancient historic sites in Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
“He had a great sense of humor and was a wonderful storyteller,” his wife said. “Friends and former students loved hearing his stories and experiences about those field trips.”
In addition to his work at UMBC, Dr. Sherwin taught Biblical Greek for nearly two decades at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, which is part of St. Mary’s Seminary and University, in Roland Park. He was named a distinguished lecturer there during the 1986-1987 academic year.
“Walter was committed to academic excellence and gave his life to our students here. He was our heart and head. He brought them together,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “He was devoted to our roots and values.”
Dr. Sherwin wrote “Echoes of Greek and Roman Mythology” and translated and edited “Deeds of Famous Men — De viris illustribus.” He was a co-author of four other books and numerous articles.
Family members said he often said he never worked a day in his life because “teaching was pure joy.” He also had said he started and ended his university career under two of the greatest college presidents, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh at Notre Dame and Dr. Hrabowski at UMBC.
The longtime resident of Wyndcrest Avenue in Catonsville retired from UMBC in 2011. He moved to Charlestown in 2015.
Dr. Sherwin began running in 1966 and had completed several marathons. He was a member of the Baltimore Road Runners for many years.
“We started running together 23 years ago,” said Nick Bogdan of Catonsville, “and when we could no longer run, we started jogging, and then we started walking four to five times a week. We’d start at 5 a.m. and do seven to eight miles.”
The two men kept track of their walking in a logbook. At the beginning of 2016, Dr. Sherwin set a goal: to walk an average of 100 minutes per day for the year — because it was a leap year, that would amount to 36,600 minutes.
“He began building up minutes in his log, a bank of sorts, and was ahead of schedule,” Mr. Bogdan said.
A springtime trip to London resulted in Dr. Sherwin’s being injured after a fall on an escalator. Yet he continued walking and kept his diary up to date. In the autumn he experienced a pericardial effusion and by the time he was back on the trail, he was behind in his time.
That December, Dr. Sherwin told his walking companion he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given six to nine months to live. Undeterred and with his goal in mind, Dr. Sherwin kept on walking, and just before Christmas, reached the 36,600-minute mark.
“Walt was Notre Dame tough,” his friend said. “He was tough right to the end.”
Mr. Bogdan said over the years they enjoyed thousands of conversations.
“We talked about our families, life, religion, sports — and we’d even go to the dark side and discuss politics,” he said. “Walt was definitely a kind man. He loved his family and was a person of deep religious faith.”
In addition to traveling ”anywhere that involved the ancients,” he collected running shoes, his wife said.
“He had 42 pairs,” she said.
Dr. Sherwin was a communicant of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in downtown Baltimore.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at noon Saturday at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 700 Maiden Choice Lane.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Sherwin is survived by two daughters, Sarah Hern of Catonsville and Monica Akin of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; a brother, Dr. Gerald P. Sherwin of Allentown, Pa.; two grandsons; two step-granddaughters; and three step-great-grandchildren. His son, Christopher Sherwin, died in 1995.