William (Bill) Gerson, 65, a mathematics professor at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), who wrote for the Daily World, predecessor of the People’s Weekly World, died of cancer Oct. 4 at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md.
Gerson taught for 21 years at PGCC, where he was a tenured professor and served two terms as president of the Faculty Senate. Service Employees International Union Local 500 was seeking to organize faculty and classified staff at the time and Gerson spoke out in support of union rights for the campus workers. The drive failed, but the Maryland General Assembly later upheld the right of employees of state institutions to organize.
Earlier, Gerson taught in Maryland at Bishop McNamara High School, Queen Anne’s High School and the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association technical college. In addition to his involvement with groups such as Anne Arundel Peace Action, his love of chess found him most Tuesdays at the weekly matches of the Annapolis chess club. He was an avid traveler to many countries around the globe.
Gerson grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from Cooper Union and obtained a masters degree in physics from Columbia University in 1964. He did doctoral work in physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he was a campus leader with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the late 1960s. He co-wrote the “Radical Guide to the University of Maryland,” and helped lead antiwar activism in the area.
While at the University of Maryland, he was a frequent contributor to the Daily World of which his father, Si Gerson, was managing editor. In the 1970s, he often substituted as the paper’s Washington correspondent. During one stint, he covered Richard Nixon’s Watergate hearings before the House Judiciary Committee. He also wrote a column for the World on chess, writing expertly on the famous Bobby Fischer–Boris Spassky duel in 1972.
Growing up as a “red diaper baby” in a left-wing family during the McCarthy period, Gerson was raised in a community whose values of social justice, equal rights and courage in the face of repression he embraced throughout his life. His father, a leader of the Communist Party USA, was a Smith Act defendant who was arrested and spent time as a political prisoner for his beliefs. His mother, Sophie Gerson, was jailed on trumped up “murder” charges during the legendary textile workers strike in Gastonia, N.C., in 1929.
As a child in the 1940s and 1950s, Gerson spent his summers at Camp Wo-Chi-Ca (Workers Children’s Camp) and later as a young adult served as director of Higley Hill children’s camp. Since 1980 he spent most summers at the World Fellowship Center in Conway, N.H., an intercultural and progressive retreat center, where for many years he worked as a staff member and sat on the board of directors.
Despite his 14-year battle with cancer, he remained active in the peace movement, attending marches and rallies against George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
Gerson is survived by his longtime companion Wendy Widmann of Severna Park, Md.; his sister Deborah Gerson of San Francisco; his parents Simon and Sophie Gerson of Brooklyn; his daughter Timi Gerson of Washington, D.C; and stepchildren Shawn Frick of Mt. Airy, Md., and Bonnie Cannon of Seattle; and many, many friends. A memorial is set for Saturday, Nov. 6, from 2–5 p.m. at the Art Gallery at PGCC. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the World Fellowship Center, P.O. Box 2280, Conway NH 03818-2280.