Loyola celebrates the life of Jack Breihan, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history
| By Rita Buettner
John “Jack” Breihan, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history, passed away on Friday, Feb. 18. He was 75.
Breihan, who taught at Loyola from 1977-2016, shaped the history department at Loyola and engaged his students in his love of history, including Baltimore history and architecture.
“He was involved in so much during Loyola’s transformation into a regional comprehensive university,” said Thomas Pegram, Ph.D., professor of history. “Since I arrived at Loyola in 1990, Jack was the personification of Loyola's mission to educate and to serve. His energy and initiative were matched by his generosity and compassion. He was the best person I ever knew.”
Breihan assisted with the launch of Loyola’s Honors Program and helped create a writing-across-the-curriculum program that continues to have an impact on the Jesuit, liberal arts education Loyola offers.
“He was a Loyolan through and through, loved the school, loved the students, and had pretty definite ideas about what ought to happen but was always willing to talk things through,” said Thomas Scheye, Ph.D., professor of English. “Writing is so much now more a part of our students’ curriculum and experience, and that is partly because of the lasting impact of the writing-across-the-curriculum effort.”
Breihan, who was born in St. Louis, Missouri, received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Princeton University in 1969 and his doctoral degree in History from the University of Cambridge in 1978. A passionate and educated historian and scholar, Breihan focused his research on military history, history through film, historic preservation, British history, and Baltimore history and architecture.
“He was trained as a British historian at Cambridge, and he did his initial doctoral work on British military history, but he was also very interested in architecture, and he developed courses on Baltimore architecture,” said Matthew Mulcahy, Ph.D., professor of history. “He liked thinking about history and space and landscape and architecture and how those things interconnected. When he taught his Baltimore History and Architecture class, one of the assignments was that students had to write the history of a neighborhood, and they got extra credit if they got it posted to Wikipedia.”
Breihan served as a board member of Baltimore Heritage and the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum, where he provided important historical research and gave regular presentations in their monthly speaker series. His published works include Maryland Aloft: A Celebration of Aviators, Airfields and Aerospace, From Mobtown to Charm City: New Perspectives on Baltimore's Past, and Martin Aircraft 1909-1960.
Breihan and his wife, Ann Whitney Breihan, Ph.D., who is a professor emerita of business at Notre Dame of Maryland University, were well-known for the barbecues they hosted at their home.
“Jack and Ann were always welcoming to new faculty and eager to make them feel a part of the Loyola community,” said Gayla McGlamery, Ph.D., associate professor of English. “Jack and I were in different departments, but he and Ann were the first people who invited me to a social event—a big cookout in their backyard on Radnor Avenue near campus. I reminded him of that not long ago. They were the first people to make me feel that I might have a home at Loyola.”
Brilliant and intellectually curious, Breihan enjoyed conversing widely on many topics.
“He was just so smart and knew so much about so many different things that he was so interesting to talk to,” Mulcahy said. “He was also incredibly kind. He was a super individual who laughed easily and told good stories—and he and his wife were tremendous hosts and hostesses to all of us.”
One of Breihan’s achievements at Loyola was helping build a history department with depth and breadth.
“He was, essentially, the architect of a terrific history department. Most are retired now, but he was the one who put together that community of outstanding teachers, scholars, and people,” said Joseph Walsh, Ph.D., professor of Classics.
Walsh recalled how when he was interviewing for a position at Loyola, he had been in a train wreck right before he was invited to campus for an interview. He had stitches on his face and borrowed his brother’s clothes, which didn’t fit. Breihan was co-hosting the interview and made Walsh feel welcome.
“During the visit, which lasted two days, Jack was his usual kind, warm, and professional self, but what most struck me at that moment was how funny he was,” Walsh said. “And that supply of smiles and laughs (and warmth) were injected at just the right and needed moment—for me, at any rate. Jack’s humor and kindness and warmth continued to make all his colleagues’ lives easier and richer for the next 30 years.”
Breihan served as the history department chair from 1983-87 and 2001-04 and as a member of University committees, including the Board of Rank and Tenure Committee and the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.
“When Jack was chair of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, I was consistently impressed by his steady leadership and by his ability to listen to disparate voices and find a common consensus,” said Frank Cunningham, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of philosophy. “I thought of Jack as an avid spokesman for the humanities and a very, very effective leader.”
Breihan believed that faculty should have a strong role in faculty governance and encouraged other faculty members to get involved.
“When a position came open on an important college committee, Jack would pay attention, and he would talk with other faculty and scout for volunteers until he found the right person for the job. Then he’d encourage them to volunteer or to run for election,” said McGlamery. “He wasn’t being a Machiavelli; he wanted everyone at Loyola to benefit from the best possible leadership.”
He and his wife, who married in 1970, have three children.
“Jack was a family man, through and through,” McGlamery said. “He loved his family and loved to do things with his kids. He also had some hilarious stories about them, including one that I remember in which he recounted with many slow shakes of the head a long litany of ways his children lost or destroyed their winter coats. I remember him pausing with a look of sheer puzzlement before he mentioned the coat that one of the boys lost while waving it out the school bus window. I can still hear Jack’s clipped delivery: ‘Why he did that he couldn't say—but there it went.’”
The Jack Breihan Essay Prize is awarded to a 100-level first-year student in a history class each year in his honor.
A memorial Mass will be held in Loyola University Maryland’s Alumni Memorial Chapel at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26. A lunch will follow at 1 p.m. in Hug Lounge. Masks are required in all campus buildings in accordance with University and city protocol.