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July 10, 2014

Obituary: Donald T. Reilly

Reilly-croppedDon Reilly had “followers,” recalls his colleague Judith Vollmer, both English professors at Pitt-Greensburg — “students who took every single one of his lit offerings.

“Once, a Reilly ‘follower’ I knew walked into my office reciting a passage from “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and wearing a cast-off tweed jacket, in imitation of the professor he admired so much,” Vollmer says. “Don inspired a couple of generations of students to read serious books and to build their own personal libraries.”

Donald T. Reilly died June 22, 2014, at the age of 75, after spending nearly 40 years at UPG, joining the Greensburg campus when it was just two years old.

He received his BA in English from Youngstown State, his MA in English from the University of Illinois and his PhD in English from Pitt in 1970.

After teaching at Bethany College for two years, he joined the Greensburg faculty in 1965, teaching British and American literature and specializing in the 19th century.

He developed the campus’s courses in pre-20th century American literature and in the European narrative. He was awarded tenure in 1971, achieving the rank of full professor in 1977. He had retired in December 2003, although he still taught part-time 2007-09.

His son Jay says: “When I was younger, I used to go to his classes all the time. He clearly enjoyed what he was doing and the students clearly were responding as well. He had a strong presence in the classroom and good control of his material.”

He recalls his father’s extensive class preparation, and points to his background doing community theatre in Youngstown, Ohio, that brought “a dynamic element to his teaching that made him more effective at reaching students.”

He also remembers his father doing public relations for the campus for two decades: attending events, taking photos, writing press releases and speeches and writing UPG’s newsletter. “Pitt-Greensburg was steeped in all of our blood,” says Jay. “He loved it. We all did. He was critical to the development of the campus. He was on the planning committee for expanding programs, facilities and buildings and hiring new presidents and bringing in new faculty.”

Donald Reilly moderated the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association, served on the provost’s appeal panel on the Pittsburgh campus, and chaired or served on numerous other committees: promotions committees, search committees and the campus dean’s ad hoc committee formulating promotion guidelines. He also took part in UPG’s Faculty Senate, serving as the organization’s president and vice president.

He was a board member of the Westmoreland Symphony and the Greensburg Library and assisted with the Westmoreland Arts and Heritage Festival and Greensburg Area Arts Council.

“Don was one of the earliest faculty hires at UPG,” says Norman Scanlon, the retired vice president of academic affairs and past interim president. “Members of that cohort, I think, viewed the campus as a challenge and had a different level of institutional commitment. After all, there was really not even an adequate physical campus at that point.

“So Don, along with his early colleagues, had to develop a college — courses, general curriculum, governance structures, etc. Don played a major role in the development and firm establishment of an English literature major and then an English writing major at UPG and his long service as the chairperson of the Humanities Division helped to firmly establish one of the basic blocks in campus governance.

“He also played a significant role in the development of a campus Senate and served as an officer of the Senate on several occasions.  Of course, he served on more committees than I can enumerate, surprisingly without ever grumbling. Don was always one of those ‘go-to’ people — always sane, always civil, always committed to his colleagues and to the campus, and always willing to take on what the situation demanded.

“Don was a good and true friend for almost my entire professional life,” he concludes. “He was a gentleman in the best sense of that word. He was also one of the most rational people I ever met; I once joked with him that he even talked in outline form.”

Larry J. Whatule, faculty emeritus at Greensburg, remembers being an office-mate of Reilly’s when Whatule joined the campus three years after Reilly.

“Don had high standards, but explained to students specifically what he expected of them and evaluated them accordingly. He was very dedicated.

“Don was a good colleague as well as a good friend,” he adds. “After his retirement, Don and a few of us who were still teaching met periodically for breakfast at Denny’s Restaurant in Greensburg. He was always eager to hear the latest development at the campus.”

Vollmer remembers entering a classroom where Reilly had just given a lecture: “In the days before whiteboard or Powerpoint, Don often included in blackboard lecture notes his own drawings. He would draw images of, say, a minor character from ‘Gatsby,’ or the trees around Walden Pond, which he had visited in order to update a lecture during the final years of his teaching career.

“Don also was among the core group of faculty and local Boy Scouts who restored and marked the first version of our Kenneth Bell Nature Trail, so when I walk the trail I’m often reminded of Don Reilly.”

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 10 a.m. in UPG’s Campana Chapel.

Besides his son, Donald Reilly is survived by his wife of 52 years, Molly J. Reilly; daughter-in-law Karlyne; granddaughters Jordan and Megan, and sister Rosemary Thompkins.

Gifts in Reilly’s memory may be made to the Millstein Library at UPG or the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

—Marty Levine