Last updateThu, 18 Jan 2018 4pm


Inger Sagatun-Edwards: Scholar advanced court systems' family law

Los Altos Hills resident Inger Sagatun-Edwards, a dean at San Jose State University and an expert on families and criminal law, died April 2 of pancreatic cancer. She was 62.

Her passionate curiosity about human behavior in society led to a career of research and writing on the modernization and reform of the criminal justice system. She developed a broadened concept of justice that connected social services, courts and community resources, interweaving child protection, family work, drug treatment and even fundamental issues of equality and human rights.

As a young woman, Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards' fierce intellectual ambition was cloaked in a modest demeanor.

"She fooled everybody because she had such a sweetness, a straightforwardness, people couldn't believe the powerhouse brain under there," her husband Leonard Edwards said.

Born during the German occupation of Norway in 1944, Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards visited the United States first as a high school exchange student and then as an advanced college student, earning a bachelor's degree at Whittier College and master's and doctoral degrees in sociology at Stanford University.

While at Stanford, friends set her up with a young public defender, Leonard Edwards. After they married, Edwards took a hiatus from his law career to follow Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards to Norway, but they returned to the United States after two years.

"(Norway) is a wonderful country, but it doesn't have enough social problems," he said with a twinkle.

Back in the United States, Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards dove into the study of domestic violence, family violence, child abduction, abuse and neglect, and drug-exposed infants. Her accomplishments were hard-won initially - as a young mother in the 1970s, she faced skepticism and dismissal from the power-holders in academia.

"Inger was one of the earlier women to forge ahead in their career - she ... was not going to let social norms slow her down," Edwards said. "I remember her coming home one day when she was pregnant. She had just been turned down for a job. The man had told her, 'You'll thank me for this later. You should take care of your baby.' She came home and she was (angry). Of course, she just went out and got another job."

Motherhood was another field of reform for Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards, who lobbied for evening PTA meetings, inclusive of working parents, when her sons attended Bullis Elementary School in Los Altos Hills.

"She wasn't afraid of being seen as a woman who was doing something wrong," Edwards said. "She was indefatigable, unstoppable. I think she's broken as many glass ceilings as any woman in her cohort around the country.

"That was one of the reasons I fell so helplessly in love with her," he said. "She was so disarming, so straightforward and honest."

The Edwardses relocated to Los Altos in 1975 and Los Altos Hills in 1977, moving ever closer to daily contact with the natural world. With daily walks and hiking and skiing trips throughout the Bay Area and Sierra, Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards "was always happiest on top of a mountain somewhere, where you could see for miles around you," said Jan Johnston, one of the friends and colleagues Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards encouraged into the outdoors.

Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards spent seven years commuting by plane to her job teaching at UC Riverside before she landed a position in the San Jose State justice studies department, where she taught for 20 years, 15 of them as department chairwoman.

Her prolific grant-writing ability led to federal and state funding for extensive research into families and criminal juvenile law. She collaborated with Edwards on several articles and a book, "Child Abuse and the Legal System" (Wadsworth, 1995). As her husband gathered experience in the courtroom, Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards conducted studies and explored theory. They combined her methodological skills and his access to the daily workings of the criminal justice system.

Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards developed an increasing interest in leadership and administration at San Jose State University, and in 2005 became dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts.

"Her vision was to train students in a cross-disciplinary way about the real-world problems they were going to face in the community," Edwards said. "She wanted to train social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and probation officers to understand the diversity of the problems people face."

"She really loved this university and felt like she could contribute to it - she believed in it," Johnston said. "The university's relationship with the community ... dovetailed very beautifully with her and Judge Edwards' concerns about collaborative work and public service."

Mrs. Sagatun-Edwards is survived by husband Leonard of Los Altos Hills; son Erik, daughter-in-law Susan and grandson William of Menlo Park; and siblings Astrid Tveter, Solveig Sagatun and Knut Sagatun of Norway. Her son Don Sagatun Edwards died at age 16 in 1996 in a car accident.

A memorial service took place Monday at Stanford Memorial Church. Donations can be made to the Dean Inger Sagatun-Edwards Faculty Development Memorial Fund, payable to the Tower Foundation of SJSU in care of Laura Henderson, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, San Jose State University, One Washington Square, San Jose 95192-0257, or online at www.sjsu.edu/giving.

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