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In Memoriam: Robert T. Farrell (November 16, 1938 – July 31, 2003)


A Remembrance by Catherine E. Karkov, Miami University

Robert T. Farrell was born in the Bronx in New York City, and educated at Fordham University, receiving his B.A. in 1960 and his Ph.D. in 1967. He furthered his postgraduate studies in Anglo-Saxon language and literature with J. R. R. Tolkien at Merton College, Oxford, but he also used this time in England to immerse himself in the study and practice of Anglo-Saxon archaeology. His first dig was at Jarrow under the direction of Rosemary Cramp, an experience that became the basis for a life-long friendship. In subsequent years many of Bob's own students would cement their archaeological training by digging at Jarrow with Rosemary or, later, at one of the many projects directed by her numerous students. Bob joined the faculty of Cornell University in 1967, remaining there for the whole of his academic career. He is remarkable for having achieved professorial rank simultaneously in English, Archaeology and Medieval Studies, and he remained a much-loved and professionally active member of all three departments until his death.

Students always came first for Bob. He was instrumental in laying the foundations for Cornell's Freshman Writing Seminar Program, and in ensuring that the material culture of early medieval Europe remained an integral part of Cornell's Program in Medieval Studies—both projects which have helped to set Cornell's programs apart from those of other American universities. He was a dedicated and inspirational teacher; but more than that he was an unfailing source of intellectual and personal support. He leant his time, his books, his office, even his kitchen to those in need, and often personally provided the financial support necessary for his undergraduate students to attend professional seminars and conferences. Bob felt the best way to learn anything was to dive right in at the deep end. Many of us owe our start in the profession to Bob. Many of us were also introduced to each other for the first time on his legendary road-trips from Ithaca to Kalamazoo, or at his equally legendary parties and picnics that were so much a part of the conference. I'm sure that none of us who were a part of the 1989 trek (the year of the Sutton Hoo sessions) will ever forget liberating the wax monk from a dumpster in Niagara Falls and carting him around with us for the rest of the conference. Bob was also the original organizer of the Black Swan banquet, now a tradition for Anglo-Saxonists at Kalamazoo.

Bob's scholarship was truly interdisciplinary, and he will be remembered in particular for his contributions to the study of Bede, the poem Daniel, and the Ruthwell Cross, but he also published important articles on both Chaucer and Tolkien. Bob was an accomplished diver and combined his love of the water with his love of archaeology in his work on Irish crannógs (man-made islands), his most recent major research project. He was also active in bringing scholars together for seminars and conferences that examined themes such as the Vikings, or Sutton Hoo and the impact of its excavation. (It was in Bob's living room that Martin Carver first described Sutton Hoo as a poem.) Bob was one of the founding contributors to the Year's Work section of the Old English Newsletter, as well as to the annual Sources of Anglo-Saxon Culture sessions at Kalamazoo, and his students have carried on his work in both venues. Those who knew Bob, however, will probably remember him most of all for his generosity, his spirit, his abilities as a singer, his restaurant-radar and expertise in the kitchen, and his belief that chocolate really is a food group.

He is survived by his wife Shari, his daughters Eva and Erica, and his son-in-law David Dudich.

OEN 37.1 (Fall 2003): 6.