When he was 12, Paul Sigmund won the Philadelphia auditions for Quiz Kids radio show. Despite this distinction, after which he traveled to Chicago to compete with similarly gifted children from around the country, the young Mr. Sigmund never made his five younger siblings feel he was in any way superior. Mr. Sigmund died Sunday at the age of 85 (see accompanying obituary).
“In spite of his tremendous scholastic achievements, Paul didn’t have any sense of being above everybody,” said his brother Peter Sigmund, on Monday. It is a description echoed by family members, friends, and colleagues of Mr. Sigmund, who began teaching at Princeton University in 1963 and helped found the school’s program in Latin American Studies.
“What impressed me was that he had the finest mind of anyone I’ve ever known, but he never talked down to people,” said Stephen Sigmund, one of Mr. Sigmund’s three sons. “I think that’s something his students always found, and they benefitted from that.”
Author and journalist Cokie Roberts, the sister of Mr. Sigmund’s late wife Barbara Boggs Sigmund, described him as “never overbearing, and a wonderful teacher in both his life and his work.” Barbara Sigmund was the mayor of Princeton Borough from 1983 until her death in 1990.
Anne Reeves of Princeton described Mr. Sigmund as “a very, very dear friend for a very long time. He was a treasure, a fine, modest human being. He was always there for you, always had a good suggestion. And certainly, he was very brilliant.”
Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs issued a statement calling Mr. Sigmund “a great scholar, favorite teacher, and generous colleague.” Mr. Sigmund attended and contributed to the bi-weekly seminars of the program.
“Moreover, he had a reserved seat at almost all of LAPA’s public events,” the statement reads.К“He willingly agreed to be a guest each year at an LAPA Fellows’ lunch, sharing his incredible knowledge of and personal experiences in Latin America.КPaul welcomed inquiries from Fellows who sought his wisdom on so many subjects.КHe was beloved by generations of students who looked for questions that would afford them the opportunity to meet with him.КPaul’s interests were rich and deep, and even included sharing with us his concerns about the New Orleans Saints football team, no doubt an interest inherited from his late wife’s family.”
Leslie Gerwin, associate director of the program, who co-wrote the statement with LAPA acting director Paul Frymer, elaborated on Tuesday. “I never met anyone who had met Paul who wasn’t influenced by him in a very positive way,” she said. “He had such wide interests. He was both a scholar and a participant in life.”
Steve Sigmund said his father, a longtime resident of Princeton, was devoted to the town. “Princeton was so meaningful to him because he was a teacher throughout his life more than anything else, and this was a warm and welcoming community to him,” he said. “He was so grateful that he could teach to and learn from so many generations of Princeton students. After my mother died, he had a supportive intellectual community to help him.”
“He listened when you talked to him,” said Peter Sigmund of the brother 14 years his senior “He was a really good brother and a very good family person with a wonderful sense of humor. He was always the leader.”