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In Memoriam: Ashley Crandell Amos


A Remembrance by Antonette diPaolo Healey, Joan Holland, Pauline Thompsen

Ashley Crandell Amos received her B.A. in English from Stanford University where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1972. At Yale University she had a distinguished graduate career in the Department of English: in 1973 and again in 1974 she won the Noah Webster Prize for the best essay on the English Lanquage. She wrote her thesis under the direction of Fred C. Robinson and received her Ph.D. in 1976; in the same year she married Bruce Amos, moving to Toronto to take up a joint appointment as a Junior Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and as an editor of the Dictionary of Old English.

Her dissertation was published in 1980 by the Medieval Academy of America as a monograph entitled The Linguistic Means of Determining the Dates of Old English Literary Texts. Analyzing and evaluating the various linguistic tests available, she concluded that scholars have not yet succeeded in constructing a reliable system for dating the composition of Old English writings. Her book, praised for its "exemplary scholarship," has become a standard reference work in the field, and has had far-reaching consequences; it show a skeptical mind seeking firm evidence before assenting to any hypothesis. Her second book, Old English Word Studies: A Preliminary Author and Word Index (1983), was co-authored with Angus Cameron and Allison Kingsmill. This collection of vocabulary studies was intended initially to aid the editors of the Dictionary of Old English, but its publication has been of enormous benefit to scholars involved in the study of Old English.

Ashley's most lasting contribution has been to the Dictionary of Old English Project itself. She succeeded Angus Cameron as Editor of the project after his death in 1982 and devoted her superb analytical abilities to formulating guidelines for writing the Dictionary, placing it on the sure footing which led to the publication of its first fascicles. Under her editorship the project was successful in acquiring a number of major research grants and was lauded for its innovative use of computers, a result of her close collaboration with Richard Venezky.

In 1985 she developed a serious depressive illness. Instead of withdrawing into silence and privacy, Ashley talked openly about the symptoms, course, and treatment of her disease. Through her long and courageous battle with depression, she helped us see how fragile life and health can be, and yet what deep reserves of strength can be called upon – even in the darkest moments and even in the greatest pain. She died on June 7, 1985 at the age of 37.

All who knew Ashley were struck by a mind brilliantly logical, the clarity of which illuminated every conversation. And yet she was ever generous to her students, colleagues, and friends. To all of us she was that rare union of kindness and generosity combined with profound learning and scholarship. Not only are her friends deeply saddened by her death, but the academic community as a whole mourns the loss of a distinguished scholar and lexicographer.

OEN 23.1 (1989): 13.