Co-founder of the UI Center for Human Rights dies

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Rex Honey, 1945-2010
Read condolences from Rex’s colleagues

By Ariana Witt, The Daily Iowan

Colleagues and family members agree Rex Honey was a rare breed of faculty at the University of Iowa. The geography professor always put students and faculty first, said Gregory Hamot, the director of the UI Center for Human Rights.

“Rex was one of those people who was a true citizen of the university,” Hamot said. “He didn’t work at the UI, he worked for the UI.”

Honey died Oct. 23 at his home in North Liberty. He was 65.

He was planning to take part in this year’s UI Indian Winterim program; he would have co-taught a human-rights course with his eldest daughter, Larisa Honey, 42. But before that, he was slated give her away at a New Orleans wedding Nov. 22.

“He was so looking forward to the amazing Cajun food at Amaud’s,” Larisa Honey said.

Rex’s middle daughter Rochelle Honey, 31, said she can recall many times when her father showed “overwhelming empathy for others.” But one family trip to Nigeria — a country Rex Honey researched extensively — stands out.

“We came upon an old man who started to bow to us,” said Rochelle Honey, who was 12 at the time. “He was bowing and calling us ‘master,’ and dad was like, ‘No, no, we’re no better than you.’ That’s who he was.”

That same compassion and drive carried over into his UI work.

“When the UI was starting to reconsider general education for students, Rex went into the meeting and fought for the students,” Hamot said. “He advocated strongly for what would make the best well-rounded adults of our students. But he never raised his voice.”

Honey cofounded the UI Center for Human Rights with UI law Professor Burns Weston and Dorothy Paul in 1999.

“If it wasn’t for Rex, there probably wouldn’t be a Center of Human Rights,” Hamot said.

“Rex was one of those people who was a true citizen of the university. He didn’t work at the UI, he worked for the UI.”

Honey even lent his office in the old UI law building as the center’s first location — with just a desk, a chair, and a phone.

“He said, ‘Let’s put it in my office until we can figure out where to go,’ ” Hamot recalled.

To commemorate their friend, said Hamot, he and Burns planned to share a cup of coffee in Rex Honey’s honor Monday night.

Having known each other for 16 years, Hamot said he and Rex Honey shared many conversations over coffee about sports — especially the Hawkeyes.

The easygoing, talkative professor could be intimating at times, said Rochelle Honey, especially to any boyfriends she or sisters Larisa and Ngaire brought home.

“He would get into lecture mode and just goes on about work or sports, but he never meant to seem cocky, he was just being engaging,” she said. “Scary to them but engaging.”

Rex Honey began teaching at the UI in 1974.

He worked tirelessly with students in the UI Middle East and Muslim programs as well as the African studies program, said Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs.

“He’d been involved with global education since before there was an International Programs Office,” Downing said. “He was one of the people that solidified the program here at the UI.”

Visitation will be held Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lensing Funeral Home, followed by a memorial service Thursday at 4 p.m., also at Lensing.

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