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F. Hilary Conroy

Hilary Conroy, history professor, died peacefully at his home in Media, Pennsylvania January 11 at the age of 95.

Dr. Conroy pioneered East Asian history at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1951 to 1990. A protégé of Delmer Brown and Woodridge Bingham at the University of California, he moved to Pennsylvania during the McCarthy era to escape California’s loyalty oath and begin a career at Penn.

Uncommonly kind and innocent, he was a stalwart figure, dependable and towering to his family for almost a century. Eschewing hospitals and nursing homes, he was cared for in his own home by his daughter Sharlie for the last six years after his wife passed away in December 2008.

Born in Normal, Illinois December 31, 1919, son of a plumber and a mother who told him, in the Depression, “there is always room at the top,” ‘Hil’ graduated as Valedictorian from Bloomington High School in 1937 where he also starred in tennis along with his sister Helene. He won a full scholarship to Northwestern University, where he majored in history and minored in English, studying with humorist Bergen Evans.

Raised with a conservative Midwestern suspicion of war, in 1944 he enlisted on the suggestion of his newly wed wife Charlotte (nee Alger) in the Naval Language School, becoming a Japanese interpreter in military intelligence. Having to leave his wife and newborn daughter Sharlie Jo behind in California, he followed orders to Tokyo in August 1945. He would use his year in Japan, working for Gen. Douglas McArthur, in part as an opportunity to help with reconciliation and contemplate the roots of conflict. Returning to Berkeley in 1946, he changed his doctoral focus from Europe to Japan, writing a dissertation on The Japanese Frontier in Hawaii.

In Pennsylvania, he joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) especially in order to work against war, which had now confronted two generations in a row of young Conroy men with drafts in their early twenties. He hoped to give his son Rusty (born in 1948) the chance to become a conscientious objector if another generational war emerged.

In 1958-9 Hilary Conroy worked for the American Friends Service Committee’s international seminar programs for students and diplomats back in Tokyo. In the meantime his book The Japanese Seizure of Korea won praise in history and international relations, in Japan, Korea and the United States.

When the next war came, he co-founded the Conference for Peace Research in History and its journal Peace and Change, and with many others helped create the Committee for Concerned Asian Scholars. At the same time, he was co-authoring with Woodbridge Bingham and Frank Ikle A History of Asia. He also began a long list of edited volumes with a study of immigration called East Across the Pacific, particularly enjoying when he could incorporate articles by his daughter and son, as well as his students, into his books. He would finish his last book, entitled West Across the Pacific on US Pacific policy, in 2008.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, he enjoyed with his wife homemaking, gardening, piano playing and hosting 4 grandchildren in their home in Media. Hilary and Charlotte’s marriage was an anchor for family and friends, lasting 65 years. Charlotte often referred to her husband as ‘Sweet Old Daddy”; later he became widely known as “Dewey” because his granddaughters could not pronounce “Grand Hilary.” In the end, even many of his doctoral students called him “Dewey.” Through the Association for Asian Studies, his students established a prize in his name in 2010 to help international scholars from different countries work on reconciliation and mutual understanding.

He played popular music from eight decades every evening on his Chickering grand piano, inherited from his wife’s family. He particularly enjoyed writing and playing songs about family members. He played until two few weeks from the end. In his old age, he also enjoyed watching the Lawrence Welk show and caring for several cats.

He is survived by his daughter Sharlie Conroy Ushioda; his son France H. Conroy (Rusty); his grandson Steven S. Ushioda, whom he helped raise; three granddaughters, Allison Hayes-Conroy, Jessica Hayes-Conroy and Jennifer Douglass; and a great grandson, Benjamin Velez-Hayes.

A memorial service will be held Saturday February 28, 2 pm, at Pendle Hill Study Center in Wallingford PA. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to Pendle Hill.
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