The Consummate Professor

Henry Winkler is not The Fonz, though that Henry Winkler did phone him last year on his 90th birthday to wish him well.

This Henry Winkler is the son of a Hebrew school teacher who encouraged him to read and discuss politics, to learn and to question. The younger Winkler pursued his love of history, becoming a professor and scholar and eventually the president of two universities.

Always a voracious reader, Henry devours not only materials on current events and history but detective stories and other types of fiction. He subscribes to a weighty list of periodicals on world issues, including the New York Times, the Economist, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement. A deft multi-tasker, he reads while watching baseball on TV.

Since l985 Henry and his wife, Bea, have lived in a three-bedroom Hyde Park condo, downsized from the President’s House and previous private residences. “We enjoy a quiet life together,” he states. “There’s an occasional play or concert – we take it easy now.”

Achieving nonagenarian status was unexpected by Winkler, although he did have a grandfather who reached 108. “I feel much the same person as always,” he observes, “just inhabiting a different body.” Despite medical interventions, including six-way bypass surgery, three angioplasties, the removal of his gall bladder, and a small stroke, he is grateful to continue to be “okay in my mind, so far.”

His lifetime of exercising -- running, tennis, squash, and racquetball – has left him in overall good shape, despite recent physical limitations. He and Bea work out in the exercise room of their building three times a week while listening to NPR’s Diane Rehm Show.

He is “reasonably” satisfied with what he has accomplished. “Being recognized in your field, having a good professional life – these have definitely been good things,” he says. He has lived on and off in France, Germany, and England, where he poured through archives to do original research. He has authored several books, including his 2005 work, British Labour Seeks a Foreign Policy, 1900-1940.

Yet what he most values is “being able to bring up such a nice family.” Son Allan is a Distinguished Professor of American History at Miami University (Oxford), and daughter Karen lives in Wyoming and is a senior editor for the Chronicle of Higher Education. With Bea’s three sons, Richard, Robert, and Kenny, the family includes five children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, scattered over the country but always in touch. He loves them all dearly and worries about their future in a world that is increasingly volatile.

Over his long lifetime, Winkler’s informal recipe for fulfillment has been to “enjoy whatever is before you, whatever you are doing.” In his later years, as Bea and he “grow old together,” he continues to savor every day.

Henry Winkler