PASSINGS: Dallas Willard, Jack Butler, Fredrick McKissack

Dallas Willard

Influential Christian philosopher taught at USC for 47 years

Dallas Willard, 77, an influential Christian philosopher who taught at USC for 47 years and chaired the philosophy department in the early 1980s, died Wednesday in Woodland Hills, the university said. He had cancer.


In “The Great Omission,” “Renovation of the Heart,” “The Divine Conspiracy” and other books, Willard wrote about spiritual formation and Christian discipleship for the general reader, often giving practical advice for living a Christian life in a secular world.

His academic works included translations of 20th century philosopher Edmund Husserl from German into English and “Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge” (1984).

Dallas Albert Willard was born Sept. 4, 1935, in Buffalo, Mo. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Tennessee Temple College and another in philosophy and religion from Baylor University before earning his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin in 1964.

He began his teaching career at Wisconsin before arriving at USC in 1965. He was chairman of USC’s philosophy department from 1982 to 1985 and retired in 2012.

In 1955, Willard married Jane Lakes and she became a marriage and family therapist; they had two children. For a time Willard and his wife lived with undergraduates in student housing as part of USC’s Faculty in Residence program designed to foster intellectual stimulation and socialization. In 1976 he received the outstanding faculty member award for contributions to student life.

Jack Butler

NFL Hall of Famer played for Pittsburgh Steelers

Jack Butler, 85, who helped revolutionize the way cornerbacks played in the NFL during his Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, died Saturday in Pittsburgh after a lengthy battle with a staph infection, according to his son John.

One of the NFL’s top defensive backs of the 1950s, Butler was a 6-foot-1, 200-pound wrecking ball known for his physical play and uncanny knack for getting to the ball. He intercepted 52 passes from 1951 to 1959, including a league-high 10 in 1957. He made the Pro Bowl four times and was chosen first-team All-NFL three times before a serious knee injury in 1959 ended his career.

When he retired, he was second in NFL history in interceptions and still ranks 26th overall, tied with Champ Bailey among others.

Reflecting on his career, Butler acknowledged that he was able to get away with the kind of contact with receivers that today’s defensive backs only dream about.

“You could bump ‘em and push ‘em and do things,” Butler said. “You could grab on to his jersey so he doesn’t get far from you. You could hold on a little bit. Now they’re all over you. It’s hard to do anything today.”

After retiring, Butler became a prominent scout who worked closely with the Steelers for more than 40 years. During one stretch from 1969 to 1974, his insight helped Pittsburgh draft nine players who would all precede him in the Hall of Fame, including Terry Bradshaw and Joe Greene. The group became the core of the franchise for the better part of a decade, helping Pittsburgh win four Super Bowls in the span of six years.

Butler was born Nov. 12, 1927, in Pittsburgh and played wide receiver at St. Bonaventure University. Undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the Steelers in 1951 and soon switched to defense.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last summer after being elected by the seniors committee.

Fredrick McKissack

Prolific author wrote about African American history

Fredrick McKissack, 73, who with his wife wrote more than 100 books, mainly for children and about African American history, died April 28 in Chesterfield, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. He had been in failing health and on kidney dialysis for four years, said his wife, Patricia.

He was a contractor and she was a teacher and children’s book editor when — frustrated with their careers — they began to collaborate as storytellers in the early 1980s. Noticing a dearth of African American titles, they wrote such award-winners as “A Long Hard Journey: The Story of the Pullman Porter” (1990) and “Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?” (1993).

Although Patricia did most of the writing while Frederick devoted himself to research, they considered themselves a writing team. They wrote a series of biographies for children called “Great African Americans” and about such subjects as the Underground Railroad, the Tuskegee Airmen, baseball’s Negro Leagues and the civil rights movement.

Frederick Lemuel McKissack was born Aug. 12, 1939, in Nashville. His father and grandfather were architects.

He served in the Marines from 1957 to 1960 and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Tennessee State University in 1964. He married Patricia the same year and moved to St. Louis. He worked as a civil engineer for city and federal governments until 1974 and then ran his own general contracting company until 1982.

They had three sons, including twins who were the inspiration for an early children’s book, “Who Is Who?” (1983). Patricia plans to finish the couple’s last book, tentatively titled “Jump Rope,” about the songs children sing on the playground.

Times staff and wire reports