RIP: Prof. Michael T. Corgan

Michael T. Corgan, Associate Professor of International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, died unexpectedly of complications following a successful surgery for cancer on November 20, 2018, at Cape Cod Hospital. He was 77.

Corgan arrived at Boston University in 1985 as an Associate Professor of Naval Science, completed a PhD in Political Science from BU, and since 1995 was an Associate Professor of International Relations in what was the Department of International Relations and is now the Pardee School of Global Studies. He also served as Chairman of the Department of Naval Science and as Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Political Science and History. He specialized in American government institutions, international security studies, and Icelandic government and politics.

Born in Pittsburgh, PA, he grew up in Germany and several cities in the United States as an “army brat.” The early experience of living in Germany sparked an interest in international affairs which guided his later careers. A graduate of the US Naval Academy in Naval Engineering, he served in the Navy for an additional 26 years, including two tours in Vietnam and several assignments to teach at the US Naval Academy, the National War College and the United States War College. He also served as the Dean of Academics for the Vietnamese Naval Academy of Nha Trang, Political Advisor to the Commander of the Iceland Defense Force, and head of the NROTC Unit at Boston University. Among other medals, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Vietnam.

Joining Boston University after a successful Naval career, Corgan was a much-beloved teacher to generations of students, including for his extremely popular course, Introduction to International Relations, that would regularly fill Morse Auditorium. Some 12,000 students took his classes during his years at Boston University. He received several teaching awards, including the 2008 Frank and Lynne Wisneski Award for Excellence in Teaching. He also served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies (1995-2006; 2011-2014) and as Associate Chair (2009-2011) at the then Department of International Relations.

Corgan authored multiple scholarly works in the field of security studies, particularly related to the Nordic and Arctic region, and was widely sought by the media as a security commentator. His book, Iceland and Its Alliances: Security for a Small State (2002) has been used as a briefing guide for officers at the NATO headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic. He taught at the University of Iceland in 2001 on a Fulbright fellowship and was invited to return in 2006 and again in 2014. His writings on Nordic security have also been published in Swedish and Icelandic. He was associated faculty at the University Of Lapland (Rovaneimi, Finland) and a member of the University of the Arctic Thematic Network.

William Grimes, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Pardee School and former Chair of International Relations, said that the unexpected news had left all his colleagues and friends at Boston University in utter shock. 

“To me, Mike was my oldest and best friend at BU, the person I knew I could always trust, a role model for how to be a teacher and mentor, and a conversationalist who could run the gamut from politics and international relations to music and literature to family and friends to jokes.” Grimes said. “Mike lived well and fully, and I keep reminding myself how fortunate I was to have been a part of his life for over 20 years.”

Erik Goldstein, long-serving Chair of the International Relations, recalled that “Mike was born on the same day US forces occupied Iceland, to defend it from potential Nazi occupation. He commented that it was obviously meant to be that he would end up with a fascination about Iceland, and write a PhD dissertation on Icelandic foreign and defense policy. One of the big moments in his career was when he was posted to Iceland and the US Iceland Defense Force (IDF) there. It began a long-term fascination with the country, and there were few non-Icelanders with his expertise and knowledge of the politics and society of Iceland. In his career at Boston University, he would brief new American ambassadors to Iceland, be asked for advice by the Icelandic Foreign Ministry, and was frequently consulted by the Icelandic media. He would eventually serve as the Political Advisor to the NATO commander in Iceland, which allowed him to live in the capital, Reykjavik, rather than on the base at Keflavik, and thereby in the thick of Icelandic life.”

Corgan is survived by his wife of 33 years, Sallie K. Riggs, daughters Kathleen and Jennifer, grandson Roman Hendrix Catalano, step-daughters Aja and Susan Riggs, sister Catherine Guinn and brother Robert. He resided in Falmouth for the last 27 years — the 30th house he lived in. There he loved feeding the birds, walking the beach and the Bourne Farm, and learning to garden.

His main hobbies were classical music, both the music itself and his audio systems, and model railroad trains. Corgan was especially partial to Beethoven, whose birthday he enjoyed celebrating. Late in life, he jumped into the new position of dog owner enjoying his two black standard poodles, Andre and Bernard, who regularly slept on Mike’s bed.

Funeral Mass will be held for Micahel Thomas Corgan on November 26, at 11:30 am, at Saint Elizabeth Seton Church, 481 Quaker Rd, North Falmouth, MA 02556, followed by burial at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.

Michael Corgan will be dearly missed by his family, his students, his colleagues, and his friends around the world.