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Gerald “Gerry” Unks, 1936-2019

Longtime UNC School of Education professor Gerald “Gerry” Unks died Saturday, November 9, 2019. He was 82.

Unks, who retired in 2012 after 45 years of teaching, was regularly cited as a favorite professor, touching the lives of more than 24,000 Carolina students. The majority of those students — many of them non-education majors — sought out his course “Education in American Society” in which he delivered memorable lectures that were equal parts informative, humorous and engaging. Those lectures often took place in Peabody Hall room 104, a lecture hall that bears his name.

Born November 12, 1936, in Peoria, Illinois, Unks joined the Carolina faculty in 1967 after receiving his doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He taught high school social studies in Evanston, Illinois, for six years before going to graduate school.

At Carolina, Unks received 13 teaching awards, including four all-University teaching awards — the Tanner Award in 2002 and 2009, the Standard Oil Award in 1971, and the Amoco Award in 1977. The senior class and the General Alumni Association presented him with the Favorite Professor Award in 1990 and 2008. He also received the Outstanding Faculty Award three times – in 1999, 2000 and 2011; the award is given by the GAA, the Division of Student Affairs and the student body.

Unks also was known to many Carolina alumni for leading trips abroad. He led more than 2,000 students for month-long summer study trips to London, and also took students to China and to the Soviet Union. Unks once said travel was important for helping students learn not only about the world, but about their own cultures and themselves. For his commitment to opening students’ eyes to different cultures through travel, an anonymous donor designated an estate gift to the Gerald Unks Undergraduate Travel Fellowship. The fellowship continues to support students seeking study abroad opportunities.

At the UNC School of Education, Unks served for 17 years as editor of the High School Journal, one of the oldest peer-reviewed academic journals in education. He also directed the School’s Honors Program.

Unks wrote four books and numerous book chapters, journal articles, book reviews and other publications. He was a regular speaker at professional meetings and for campus and community groups. He helped create the documentary film “The Town Before Brown” that explored segregation in Chapel Hill before the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that ended “separate but equal” schooling.

A memorial service will be held Friday, November 15, at 10:30 a.m. at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Gerald Unks Undergraduate Travel Fellowship and mailed to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Post Office Box 309, Chapel Hill NC 27514-0309, or made online at

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