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Anatole Ben Anton, 84, professor of philosophy and activist who took a stand

Anatole Ben Anton, a beloved professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University, died on Dec. 25. He was 84.

His teaching career spanned more than 40 years. His colleagues and students remember him as an encouraging, empowering and engaging professor. He impacted students with the same qualities that emerged in his work as a writer and editor: a penetrating and critical understanding of the world that refused pessimism even during the darkest of times, a big heart, fiery passion and profound depth.

His family remembers him as a caring father, husband, brother, grandfather and uncle. He touched many hearts and fostered the development of those around him.

Anatole was born April 18, 1939, in New York’s Greenwich Village to the pioneering Abstract Expressionist painter Harold Anton and Felicia Anton, who worked for the New York City Department of Health.

He attended the City College of New York as an undergraduate. In 1963, while still a student at CCNY, Anatole went on the first trip to Cuba in protest of the U.S. blockade. Two years later he enrolled in Stanford’s Graduate School of Philosophy where he received his Ph.D.

In 1967 he accepted a teaching position in the philosophy department at San Francisco State. In 1968, he became a leader of the faculty supporters of the student strike, which cost him a tenure track position. He then taught at the University of Colorado.

Thanks to the outpouring of support from his friends and colleagues, Anatole was rehired at San Francisco State as a tenure-track professor in 1984. There he spent the remainder of his teaching career and served as chairperson of the philosophy department for a number of years, publishing several edited volumes, numerous articles and reviews, and retiring in 2006. Throughout his career, Anatole’s work to reshape higher education never ceased to inspire and galvanize his friends and colleagues.

Anatole suffered from Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia through the last decade of his life, but maintained his humor, curiosity and personal warmth.

He is survived by his second wife, Kathryn Johnson; his daughter, Glenna Anton, her husband, Amir Buchbinder, and their two children, Django and Ashi; Kathryn’s son, David Johnson-Igra, David’s wife, Kelly, and their children, Maya and Casey; Anatole’s brother, William (Billy) Anton, and Billy’s son, John, Billy’s wife, Karen, and their children, Nanao, Mie, Mario and Lila; Anatole’s 11 grandnieces and grandnephews; and his first wife, Bette Anton. He is also survived by his daughter in spirit, Geraldine Urquidez. A memorial event will be held this fall.


  1. Nini Jensen Nini Jensen April 10, 2024

    Anatole was a wonderful human being. Even though I only met him a few times he has a big place in my heart.

  2. Fred Harriman Fred Harriman April 9, 2024

    I knew Anatole through his brother Billy. We should all work harder to be as kind and wise as Anatole.

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