University of Michigan
News for Faculty and Staff

May 24, 2017

Obituary: Max Arthur Heirich

May 19, 2017

Obituary: Max Arthur Heirich

Topic: Obituaries

Max Arthur Heirich, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Michigan, died April 27 at the age of 85 after a long illness. He was known to many in the Ann Arbor community for his teaching, social activism and work in alternative medicine. His academic work encompassed the sociology of religion, social movements and health care.  

A longtime member of the Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Heirich will be remembered as a spiritual seeker by those who knew him and by the many whom he helped. Born the son of Charles and Virginia Heirich in Aurora, Illinois, on May 13, 1931, he grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma. His early life was strongly influenced by an in-depth study of the Bible. He trained as a youth minister and after high-school, he entered the College of Emporia (Kansas) with the intention of becoming a minister. He then transferred to Earlham College, a Quaker school in Richmond, Indiana (graduating 1953). During these Korean War years, Heirich became the first conscientious objector in the history of Muskogee and served his Alternative Service teaching at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

Max Arthur Heirich

As a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee for six years, Heirich visited college campuses raising questions about war, peace and race relations. In this role, he was present at the founding of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960, and worked with many activists in the civil rights movement. These years contributed to his life-long passion in defense of social justice with a deep personal identification with the African-American community.

In 1960 he entered graduate school (sociology) at University of California, Berkeley. While searching for a social change topic, the Free Speech Movement erupted and became his dissertation. His book, “The Spiral of Conflict: Berkeley 1964,” remains the most authoritative account of those events. In 1967 he joined the U-M Sociology Department. He retired in 1999, a respected and popular teacher in both the Residential College and the Sociology Department.   

In 1971, as part of his recovery from a debilitating illness, he began to practice Hatha Yoga, something he continued to the end of his life. He encountered Polarity Therapy, a healing modality based on the Eastern concept of Chi. He spent a year on sabbatical apprenticing to non-Western healers and as a result, refocused his academic life to bring Western and non-Western understandings of reality into a more dynamic interchange.

  Heirich co-founded the interdisciplinary U-M Health Policy Forum; taught courses in patient-doctor relations at the U-M Medical School; assisted the Worker Health Program  (U-M institute of Labor and Industrial Relations) by evaluating programs for health promotion in the workplace. He served as consultant to NIH’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine Advisory Board and to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. He co-authored Congressional testimony presented by the American Friends Service Committee in support of the Affordable Care Act.

In retirement he continued to make the world a better place: seeking better living alternatives and health-care for the elderly, and working to promote renewable energy at local and statewide levels. He will be remembered for his unfailing ability to make friends everywhere he went, his passion for music and his love of terrible puns. He lived his life from the heart.

He is survived by his children, Douglas (Dana) of Palo Alto, California; Alan (Michele) of Half Moon Bay, California; Julia Heirich (Uwe Eichelhardt) of St. Oyens, Switzerland; Deborah Maddox (Colby) of Chicago; and by nine grandchildren, his former wife Jane, his cat Zima, as well as many dear friends. 

A memorial gathering is planned for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 27, at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on 4001 Ann Arbor-Saline Road.

Charitable gifts in Heirch’s memory may be sent to American Friends Service Committee, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union or Michigan Interfaith Power & Light.

— Submitted by Jane R. Heirich

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