Memorial Mass for John “Jay” Thorndike Alexander, 78, Lawrence, will be held at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, December 15, 2018 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. He died December 6, 2018 at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Inurnment will be at Pioneer Cemetery.
Jay was born on January 18, 1940 in Cooperstown, New York, the son of Edward Porter and Alice (Bolton) Alexander. From age 6 through high school, Jay’s family lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, but Jay loved returning to the Cooperstown area to attend Hyde Bay Camp for Boys on Otsego Lake over six summers. One of his proudest childhood memories was written up in the local newspaper on August 11, 1955, when “Jay made history on Doubleday Field yesterday when he pitched his Hyde Bay Camp team to victory in a wonderful no-hit performance.” This may have spurred Jay’s lifelong interest in all sports statistics and trivia.
Jay graduated in 1961 from Wesleyan University (Connecticut). He earned his PhD in Russian history from Indiana University in 1966, and married Maria Kovalak Hreha on June 13, 1964 in Bloomington, Indiana. Even after 54 years of marriage, Jay spoke with a twinkle in his eye about how lucky he was to win Maria’s heart. Jay and Maria met at IU where both participated in the Russian club. They “honeymooned” in the Soviet Union for a year while Jay was doing research for his dissertation. Six years later, they returned to the Soviet Union for eight months with their two young children. After that, Jay made several shorter trips to the Soviet Union.
Jay taught Russian history at the University of Kansas from 1966-2005. He was an internationally recognized scholar specializing in 18th century Russia. His professional achievements are too numerous to mention, as evidenced by his 24 page-long curriculum vitae! Jay was the author of four original books, his favorite of which was Bubonic Plague in Early Modern Russia. His book Catherine the Great: Life and Legend (Oxford University Press, 1989) was the most widely read, winner of the Byron Caldwell Smith Award in 1989 for the best book by a Kansas author, main selection with the History Book Club 1988-89, alternate for the Book of the Month Club and Book Club Associates (Britain). It was reproduced by Easton Press in 1994 and by The Folio Society (London) in 1999. Two of Jay’s books were translated into Russian. He also translated three books from Russian into English and wrote numerous articles and book reviews. He was highly respected as a reviewer for being thorough, honest and professional. He presented at many conferences in the US and overseas, served on many departmental and university committees, and was a member of several professional organizations, domestic and international. Jay was honored to receive the Higuchi Research Achievement Award in 1992 and the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies Senior Scholar Award in 2001. He received awards and honors from many organizations, for example the National Library of Medicine and the American Philosophical Society. Jay was a featured scholar in “Russia: Land of the Tsars,” a documentary on the History Channel. He was always surprised when strangers would ask him, “Didn’t I see you on TV?”
Outside of his professional activities, Jay was involved at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, serving as a lector and usher. He enjoyed sailing, playing squash and tennis, and was an excellent swimmer and diver. He loved reading various genres, both fiction and non-fiction. Jay had an appreciation for Russian poetry, an interest he shared with Maria from their courting days. In retirement, Jay was an enthusiastic member of the Endacott Society, where he found many supportive friends, for which his family is very grateful. He was a modest man who did not hold grudges and who genuinely rejoiced at the good fortune of others.
Jay is survived by his wife Maria and son Michal Alexander, Lawrence; daughter Darya Alexander (Matthew Snyder) and two grandsons, Dean Alexander Snyder and Owen Andrew Snyder, Grafton, WI; sister Mary Alexander (Norman Schou), Washington, D.C.; sister-in-law Elizabeth Wardell (Donald Wardell), Indianapolis, IN; three nieces and three nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Anne Davidson and brother-in-law John Davidson.
In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made in Jay’s name to KU Endowment and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W 13th, Lawrence, KS 66044.
The family would like to thank all who cared for Jay at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, especially cardiologist Dr. Michael Zabel and palliative support services’ Janelle Williamson NP and Compassionate Care Hospice case manager Teresa Hunsberger RN.
Online condolences may be posted at warrenmcelwain.com