Samuel Allen Counter, a neurobiology professor and founding director of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, died on Wednesday at age 73 from cancer, the New York Times reports.
Harvard University President Drew Faust said Counter was a champion of inclusion, the Harvard Gazette reported.
“Through his leadership of the Harvard Foundation, he advanced understanding among members of our community and challenged all of us to imagine and strive for a more welcoming university and a more peaceful world,” Faust stated.
The Harvard Crimson said Counter “was a campus fixture” for more than 45 years. As director of the foundation, Counter advanced race relations and welcomed dignitaries to the university.
Counter, an Americus, Georgia native who grew up in Boynton Beach, Florida, was an avid explorer who championed the achievements of Matthew A. Henson, the African-American explorer who was instrumental in Robert E. Peary’s 1909 expedition to the North Pole.
An expert in audiology and deafness, he found opportunities to intertwine his profession and passion. During his career, he sought to understand why hearing loss afflicted the Inuit people of Greenland.
During a mission in the 1970s, he learned that Henson and Peary had children with Eskimo women. More than a decade later, he traveled to Greenland and found Henson and Peary’s biracial descendants in remote villages.
Counter brought the descendants to the United States in 1987 for a reunion with their American families. While working on that, Counter also solved the mystery of widespread deafness among the Inuit and found a solution.
American history had long mentioned Henson as a footnote, describing him as an unskilled assistant to Peary. Counter worked tirelessly to correct history, shedding light on Henson’s skills as a navigator and sled team driver who spoke Inuit. Peary depended heavily on him during the expedition.
Counter is survived by three daughters, Philippa, Olivia and Maya Counter; a sister, Jean Powell; and Timothy Daniels, his half brother, the Times reported.