It's my sad duty to tell you that Professor William Helmreich, distinguished professor and foundational member of the CCNY sociology department, has passed away, falling to the coronavirus.
Willy—as everyone knew him—was an expansive writer and analyst, covering topics as varied as immigration, life inside yeshivas and the formation of stereotypes. He will, however, almost certainly be most fondly remembered for a joyful series of recent books, chronicling his efforts to walk all the streets of New York, and report on what he saw and heard.
Professor Helmreich loved to talk. It was his scholarly methodology and personal code of conduct: find a person, get them talking and remember what they said. He was gregarious, optimistic, and unremittingly curious about the lives of those around him. He came to City College before the great changes our institution underwent in the 1970s, served us well for his entire professional career, and carried our stories around with him—alongside the myriad other stories he collected with relish. It is hard to imagine the campus without him, and I am deeply saddened by his loss.
News of his passing came today with virtually no forewarning—few among us even knew that he was sick—and so serves as an urgent reminder. This virus is profoundly dangerous. Do not lower your guard. Do not confuse recklessness with bravery. Do not believe that we are, any of us, made safe by anything except vigilance and care.
I'm not sure if Willy was truly able to walk each and every street in New York City before he left us. He said he did, but sometimes he exaggerated a little. You would have been hard pressed to name a street he didn't recall, and he'd tell you about it. I'm glad that he wrote so many of his stories down, and aggrieved that we'll no longer get to hear them from his lips.