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In Memoriam: J.D.A. Ogilvy (1903-93)


A Remembrance by Shirley Carnahan, University of Colorado

Jack David Angus Ogilvy, Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder, died on June 15, three days before his ninetieth birthday. His wife Dorothy, whom he married in 1941, survives him.

Jack Ogilvy was born in LaSalle, Colorado, to Edith Boothroyd Ogilvy and Captain, the Honorable, Lyulph Stanley Gilchrist Ogilvy, D.S.O., a pioneer Colorado rancher and newspaperman who came to Colorado in 1878. Jack was related to, among others, Clementine Churchill, widow of Winston, and the royal family of Great Britain. Jack attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in 1925. He went on to Harvard, where he received both his A.M. (1926) and Ph.D. (1933). From 1927 to 1930, Jack was an instructor at Northwestern University. In 1931 he started as an instructor at the University of Colorado. He was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1937, Associate Professor in 1946, Professor in 1956, and Professor Emeritus in 1968. He served three nonconsecutive terms as Chairman of the Department of English.

Jack loved teaching and was a constant champion of rewarding good teachers with raises and promotions. Upon his retirement in 1971 he stated, "I won't miss marking papers or sitting in committee meetings, but I have certain pangs about not teaching. I've enjoyed that." His generosity and love of students led him to establish the Ogilvy Fellowships, which allow outstanding graduate students in the humanities the opportunity to work for a summer in the libraries and archives of Great Britain.

Jack received many awards, including the University Medal in 1976, one of the University of Colorado's highest honors, and belonged to many professional organizations, including the Medieval Academy of America. However, the distinction of which he was most proud, according to long-time friend John Murphy, was being asked to give the 1968 Jarrow Lecture. It was not merely the prestige of the event nor the fact that the lecture, entitled "The Place of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Western Cultural History," was subsequently published that made Jack proud. He often mentioned that what also pleased him was that the lecture was given "at the site of the monastery of the Venerable Bede."

Jack's best-known publications are Books Known to Anglo-Latin: Writers from Aldhelm to Alcuin (1936), Books Known to the English, 597-1066 (1967), and (with Donald Baker) Reading Beowulf (1983). However, he wrote on a wide range of topics, including "Entertainers of the Early Middle Ages," "The Miracle of Language," "Problems of a President," "The Stirrup and Feudalism," "The Lowbrow in the Electronic Age," and "The Ballistics of the Whodunit." In addition, Jack was a popular speaker, giving such lectures as "The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent" to the Phi Beta Kappa Society and "The College Professor in Fact and Fiction" to the Kiwanis Club.

Not everyone knows how much Jack loved sports. He had participated in boxing, wrestling, football, and ju-jitsu; he was a crack shot and had coached fencing. In fact, a director of one of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival plays remembers meeting Jack in his office so that he could show her a possible fencing move for her production. He was advancing upon her with an umbrella when the two turned to see an astonished student standing open-mouthed in the doorway. The student left before the two could explain.

Jack kept up a lively correspondence with politicians, other scholars, and (when necessary) administrators, always sprinkling his letters with his own brand of directness and wit. He once wrote to a dean that the faculty annual report he was required to fill out ("these damned yellow 'swindle sheets'") were "as valid as a blind man's guess at the shape of an elephant." He added, "When I am asked to review a book, I say 'Yes' or 'No.' If I say 'Yes,' I read the book, write the review, correct the proofs, stick them in the envelope, and forget about them. Why should I bother to remember what year the review was printed? Short of having someone follow me around with a stop watch, I have no way of knowing just how many hours I spend at this or that." The letter was closed with the words "rebelliously submitted."

At his memorial service held in Boulder on June 19, sections of several of Jack's favorite works were read. Included were a selection from Bede read in Latin, Old English, and Modern English; the end of Part II of Cynewulf's "Christ," read in Old English and Modern English; and a Rudyard Kipling poem which included "three things Jack loved: a horse, racing, and a wife." The best remark I heard at his service, however, was whispered into my ear: "An oak has fallen."

OEN 26.4 (1993): 5.