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September 15, 2016

Obituary: Carroll Grimes

obit.carroll.grimesA memorial is set for 4 p.m. Sept. 22 in Pitt-Johnstown’s Whalley Chapel for Carroll Grimes, former chair of Pitt-Johnstown’s humanities division and professor emerita of English.

Grimes, 85, died Aug. 29, 2016, of complications of Parkinson’s disease in Greenport, New York.

Grimes joined the UPJ faculty in 1969 as an assistant professor of English. She was promoted to associate professor and became humanities division chair in 1972. She was promoted to full professor in 1975 and remained as division chair until her retirement as professor emerita in 2002. She continued to teach on the Pitt-Johnstown campus until 2003.

She held a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College, a master’s degree in English literature from New York University and a PhD in English from Ohio State.

Fellow faculty members remembered Grimes as an influential figure in UPJ’s transition to a four-year institution.

“She was indefatigable in her willingness to work on things that were being developed,” said former administrator Jeffrey Lavine who, along with his wife, Mary Lavine, faculty emerita in geography, arrived at UPJ shortly after Grimes. “I can’t think of a single major committee, convocation or conclave that she wasn’t part of,” he said. “She was willing to work and her opinion was valued and sought after.”

Grimes set a unifying tone for the division and beyond, colleagues said.

Catharine Kloss, emeritus faculty member in English, said Grimes “gave us an identity as a division,” not merely in an administrative way, but in a personal manner.

Kloss remembered Grimes’ carefully prepared words at the division’s annual year-end banquet, during which she would thank the faculty and summarize the year’s ups and downs. “She made it clear that we were not alone — that she saw our struggles and disappointments as well as our successes.”

Grimes also would enumerate each faculty member’s significant achievements, further galvanizing their respect, admiration and commitment to one another. “We’re all still very close,” Kloss said.

As an administrator, Grimes supported both faculty and students. “She protected her division always,” said Kloss. “She fought for us behind the scenes in ways we will never know.”

Grimes reached beyond the humanities division in support of the entire institution. Said Lavine: “She truly wanted what was best for the campus — ultimately that which was best for students; secondarily what helped the faculty do their job.”

Welcoming and personable, she related across the campus community. She was known to be kind and considerate at the individual level, yet swift to speak out against injustice.

“She had a strong sense of fairness,” Lavine said. “She was not a crusader for any particular group but held a strong expectation that people would treat one another fairly, and was one to speak out if she saw that wasn’t being done.”

Said Kloss, “She was never mean, never angry or impatient except when she saw unfairness or deceit.”
In a letter to the editor of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, UPJ professor emeritus Charles Clifton wrote: “Grimes stuck up for everybody who worked alongside her — secretaries, professors, students and grounds crew.”

Said Lavine: “Carroll was a very important person to a lot of people on campus. She gave of herself generously and was instrumental in the creation of the campus community.”

She supported the campus not only through her influence as an administrator but also with her presence. She was a regular attendee at basketball games and homecoming events, fought for the student newspaper and supported UPJ’s chorus and theatre programs, colleagues said. “If there were six performances, she was there six nights,” Lavine said.

She also was an important part of many faculty members’ families, attending children’s Christmas concerts and grade-school pageants.

“She related to everyone on a personal level,” Kloss said. “Our children were her children.”

She found time as well for her own interests, particularly in the works of Ernest Hemingway. A longtime member of the Hemingway Society, she would take time in summer to further her research on the noted author, Lavine said.

A highly regarded teacher, Grimes insisted on intellectual rigor. “She elevated the standards of the classroom,” Kloss said. “Students knew that it was business. You had to measure up and do your part, but you knew that you would grow.

“They could see what she wanted for them. She made them want it too.”

At Grimes’ retirement, colleagues endowed an award in her honor, citing her “contagious and legendary” love of teaching and of learning. The Carroll Grimes Award for Writing in the Humanities is presented each year to the undergraduate writer of the best scholarly or critical essay written for a humanities class. The winner, announced at the UPJ honors convocation, receives both a cash prize and a rare edition of a work by Ernest Hemingway.


Grimes is survived by her brother James A. Grimes and sisters Nancy McLernon and Frances A. Leudesdorf.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 2

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