Jan Louis Perkowski

December 29, 1936 - November 21, 2023

Jan Louis Perkowski, Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia, passed away on November 21, 2023 in Charlottesville, VA in the care of the Hospice of the Piedmont and his wife Liliana. He died of complications from the long-term effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

Jan was born on December 29, 1936 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey to John Perkowski and Veda Meyers Ferenchwich. He grew up in Perth Amboy and Edison. He studied at Perth Amboy High School, where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in April of 2006. Jan went on to pursue higher education at Harvard University and earned his three consecutive academic degrees there: A. B., magna cum laude (1959); A. M. (1960); PhD (1965). At Harvard, he studied under eminent linguists and folklorists, such as Roman Jakobson, Svatava Pirkova Jakobson, Horace Lunt, Evon Z. Vogt and Albert Lord. Slavic languages, general and Slavic linguistics and Slavic folklore were at the core of his teaching, research and publications, his interests and expertise spanning from Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, Polish, Romanian and Old Church Slavonic to the culture and folklore of Slavs, Romanians, Bosnians, Russian Old Believers, Balkan Muslim minorities, to Russian Imperial coins and medals and numismatics in general, and to the teachings and history of Orthodoxy.

Jan was a Teaching Fellow at Harvard (1960-1963) and Assistant Professor at the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He later became Associate Professor at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Texas, Austin (1965-1974) and then Professor at the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia (1974-2009). While teaching in these academic institutions, he also held numerous offices in them and in other professional organizations: founding member, board of directors of the American Council of Teachers of Russian (1975-1978); chairman of the Russian Language Program Consortium of the Council for International Educational Exchange (1983-1987); chairman of the Fulbright Slavic and East European Studies Committee (1986-1988); chairman of the Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Texas (1966-1968, 1973-1974); chairman of the Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Virginia (1976-1983; 1996-1998); chairman of the University of Virginia Interdepartmental Program in General Linguistics (1978-1979); Vice President of the Slavic and East European Folklore Association (1995-1998); thesis and dissertation advisor to many graduate students over the years; member of the editorial board of Folia Slavica (1978-1989).

Over the years, Jan received over thirty fellowships and grants from various sources, including: Ford Foundation, Harvard, Kosciuszko Foundation, N. D. E. A., A. C. L. S., University of Texas, American Philosophical Society, National Museum of Man (Ottawa), I.R.E.X., University of Virginia, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, University of Minnesota Immigrant Archives, National Endowment for the Humanities, Kennan Institute, U.S. Office of Education, Center for Bulgarian Studies, the University of Rome. His publications include five books, more than 70 articles and 20 reviews. Jan’s books are a reflection of his particular interest in Slavic folklore, especially folk demonology, beliefs and practices associated with vampires. Chief among them are: Vampires, Dwarves, and Witches Among the Ontario Kashubs (1972), The Darkling (1989), Vampire Lore (2006). In addition, he has presented over the years countless papers and lectures at scholarly conventions and academic institutions.

Jan was an avid and seasoned traveler worldwide. Professional pursuits and leisure have taken him all across North America (including Hawaii, Alaska and Canada), Mexico, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, all of Europe (including Russia from St. Petersburg to Nakhodka), North Africa, Japan, India, the South Pacific, and Australasia. He directed numerous foreign language tours for American college students to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. He also led Smithsonian tours to Soviet Central Asia, around the world via the Soviet Union and to Poland.

Jan was preceded in death by his parents, John and Veda Perkowski and their numerous siblings. He is survived by his loving wife of almost 35 years, Liliana; his three children, Matthew E. (Heather), Kristin L. (Fred) and Andrew K. (Emily), as well as four grandchildren (Austin, Skyla, Paige and Dylan); his brother-in-law Vladimir Daskalov (Marusia) and his niece Asya Daskalova, as well as numerous cousins.

The family is deeply grateful to the entire team at Westminster Canterbury of the Blue Ridge (special heartfelt appreciation goes to HealthCare 2) where Jan resided for the past two years, and to the doctors, nurses and staff at the University of Virginia Hospital who made every effort to restore his health on several occasions in recent times.

The funeral service will take place at Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Charlottesville (100 Perry Dr.) on November 29 at 10:30 am, followed by interment at Riverview Cemetery (1701 Chesapeake St.) and a commemorative gathering at the Greencroft Club. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Jan’s memory to Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church.