Walter Kintsch died at home on March 24 of natural causes at the age of 90. He was born on May 30, 1932 in Timișoara, Romania, the eldest of two children of Christof and Irene Kintsch. An idyllic childhood changed abruptly when the family fled invading forces at the end of World War II. They eventually rebuilt their lives in Bregenz, Austria. Walter grew up exploring the surrounding Alps, cultivating a lifelong love of hiking and skiing. He graduated from the Lehrerbildungsanstalt (teacher’s college) in Feldkirch, Austria in 1951 and went on to teach for four years at a one-room schoolhouse in a small village in Vorarlberg, Austria. Walter first came to the United States in 1955 as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Kansas, where he received his doctoral degree and fell in love with his wife and lifelong collaborator, Eileen Hoover Kintsch. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Indiana University, he held faculty positions at the University of Missouri (Columbia), University of California (Riverside), and as a visiting professor at Stanford University, before settling with his family at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1968. 

Walter was a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Psychology whose 50 years of research focused on the study of how people understand language, using both experimental methods and computational modeling techniques, providing a theoretical framework for representing how people use their knowledge to understand and learn from written text. The interdisciplinary scope of his research has had a tremendous impact on cognitive science, discourse processes, psycholinguistics, and education. As Professor of Psychology, Walter was a beloved mentor for dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, many of whom carry on his legacy of research around the world today. In addition to his role as professor, Walter served as the longtime director of the Institute of Cognitive Science at CU from 1983 to 2004. Throughout his career, he was a prolific writer, served on multiple professional boards and was the recipient of prestigious awards, including an honorary doctorate from the Humboldt University in Berlin in 2001.

In addition to his love of the mountains, Walter was passionately interested in the arts, including classical music and oriental rugs. Walter is survived by Eileen Kintsch, his wife of 64 years; their daughter, Julia Kintsch (Joel Heuvelmans); granddaughter Maya Boerner (father, Andreas Boerner); sister Gerda Reich; and nieces and nephews in Austria and Kansas. He is predeceased by his eldest daughter, Anja Kintsch. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and students. A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, May 18th at 4pm at the Koenig Alumni Center, 1202 University Ave., Boulder, CO 80302

If you wish to honor his memory, the family suggests donations to the Boulder Bach Festival or the University of Colorado Foundation Need-Based Financial Aid Fund.

2 thoughts on “Walter Kintsch”

  1. Walter was a treasured mentor and good friend. He believed in me, supported me, and guided me. I would not have been able to accomplish all the things I’ve accomplished in my career if it were not for the faith he had in me. That faith and encouragement made me believe in myself, and carried me through some tough times. He will be dearly missed. Our hearts go out to Eileen, Julia, and the rest of the Kintsch family.

  2. To sir with love and deepest appreciation!
    I did my postdoc study with Walter for a year in 1988. His attitude toward research and his C-I theory of comprehension have become the guiding light of my career since then. Twenty years ago, Walter and Eileen came to Taiwan to see me. It was the greatest pleasure and honor in my life. Walter’s humanistic concern and sense of justice also influence me deeply. It is to my regret that I found his obituary when I tried to find his email to write him. My heart goes to Eileen and the rest of the family.

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