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September 14, 2006

Obituary: Richard C. Tobias

Long-time Pitt English professor Richard C. Tobias of Squirrel Hill died Sept.12, 2006, of cancer. He was 81.

Tobias, better known as “Tob,” was beginning his 49th year as a Pitt faculty member and was teaching a course on Shakespeare this term.

A dedicated teacher, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer and scheduled for surgery in August, his students were on his mind. “He asked the oncologist, ‘Can we do this so I can be back to teach a class the 28th of August?’” recalled his son, Alan. Tobias began the fall term in the classroom, but the spread of the cancer to his liver prevented him from continuing.

He came to Pitt as an instructor in 1957 and rose through the academic ranks to become a full professor in 1969. A World War II veteran, following his service in the infantry Tobias enrolled at Ohio State University where he received his BA, MA and PhD degrees.

Tobias had a long record of service to Pitt’s University Senate, serving as president in 1982-84 and again in 1991-92. He was secretary in 1978-79, vice president in 1979-80 and Senate parliamentarian in 1999-2000.

Tobias was interim chair of the Senate anti-discriminatory policy committee in 1996-97 and chair in 2001-04. He had been a member of the tenure and academic freedom committee since 1960.

In 2001, he received the University Senate service award.

Tobias served as dean for Semester at Sea’s fall 1985 voyage and was a member of its advisory board in 1985-90.

He was a faculty member of the Board of Trustees academic affairs and libraries committees in 1993-96.

Beyond the University, Tobias was president of the Pennsylvania division of the American Association of University Professors in 1970-72.

Health law professor Nathan Hershey, who served with Tobias in the Senate, remembered him as a fiery advocate for issues and as a professor who loved teaching. “He was an outspoken advocate for the values of the University,” Hershey said. “Sometimes that put him in conflict with the administration. But his motivation was because of his concern, interest and love of the University rather than any self-aggrandizement.”

Tobias authored two books: “The Art of James Thurber” and “T.E. Brown: The Manx Poet.” He edited two collections: “Shakespeare’s Late Plays: Essays in Honor of Charles Crow” and, with his wife, Barbara, “Bibliographies of Studies in Victorian Literature: 1975-1984.”

A respected Victorianist scholar, he contributed to and later edited the Victorian Studies Annual Bibliography; for 20 years he wrote and then edited the annual survey of the year’s work for Victorian Poetry.

In 1989, he spent a year as a visiting scholar at Kings College, Cambridge University. This past summer, he traveled and lectured in Germany. At the time of his death, he was completing his study of the late-Victorian novelist, Rhoda Broughton.

In a message announcing Tobias’s death, English chair David Bartholomae stated, “We will remember him as an exuberant and passionate scholar, writer and teacher. He taught courses on the Victorians, on Shakespeare, on modern poetry and on comedy. Tob was always in mid-thought, always ready to tell you what he was reading, what he was writing, and what his students were doing — often in a single sentence and always in his strong and resonant voice. He was quick with a joke or a song, a bit of verse or a line from a favorite novel. … His legacy will remain in our memories and in our teaching; it will be forever present, as well, through the Barbara N. Tobias dissertation fellowship he endowed in memory of his wife. He will be missed dearly.”

English department colleague Philip Wion remembered Tobias as a frank, direct, authentic man. “He didn’t mince words,” Wion said, citing Tobias’s contributions on Senate committees. “He cared passionately about academic freedom at every level. He was very concerned that people be treated fairly.”

In the Senate, Tobias also was the one to turn to for procedural guidance. “He was an expert on Roberts Rules of Order,” Wion recalled. “He knew the answers.”

Wion said Tobias had a knack for remembering former students, keeping in touch with many of them. “He touched not only careers, but lives in ways that made them want to keep in touch with him,” Wion said.

“He cared passionately about literature, life, teaching, about the University and he showed it in everything he did, everything he said. He was a leader in the department and was respected and admired by everyone.”

Alan Tobias remembered his father as someone who loved to travel and experience other cultures. “He had friends literally all over the world,” including many “academic grandchildren” he’d mentored over the years, he said.

Tobias is survived by son Alan Clark Tobias of Richmond, Va,; daughters Emily Profitt of Hamilton, Ohio and Leslie Tobias Olsen of Wakefield, R.I.; grandchildren Bradley Tobias and Cathryn, Celia and Tobias Olsen, and brothers Donald Philip of Richmond, Va. and Robert Tobias of Beavercreek, Ohio.

The family requests memorial donations to the Barbara N. Tobias Fellowship Fund, Family Hospice and Palliative Care Center or the Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill.

Memorial services are planned at the church and later at Heinz Chapel.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 2

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