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Mourning the Loss of Retired School of Arts Professor Dr. Roger Easson

MEMPHIS—The CBU community bade goodbye to retired Literature and Languages professor, Dr. Roger Easson, who passed away on October 22 at Methodist Hospice Residence. Dr. Easson began teaching in the School of Arts in 1987 and played a seminal role in establishing the still-popular English for Corporate Communications major, which aims to prepare students for careers in professional writing. In addition, he also directed the Writing Center for a number of years and guided students through internships at Memphis-area businesses. He retired from CBU in 2013.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Easson edited an international academic journal, Blake Studies, 1968-1983, dedicated to the art and poetry of William Blake (1757-1827). He and his wife, Kay Parkhurst Easson, wrote and edited five academic books about Blake’s work. With Robert Essick, Roger collaborated on the two-volume book, William Blake: Book Illustrator. During their work as Blake scholars, Roger and Kay collected a significant library of rare books and art, which they donated to the Special Collections of McFarlin Library at The University of Tulsa. He also collaborated with Robert Sigafoos on the corporate history of Federal Express (Absolutely Positively Overnight: The Unofficial Corporate History of Federal Express), with Sidney Davis on Delta Airlines: Debunking the Myth, with Dr. Luther Crabb on I Can See: The Story of Radial Keratotomy, and with Gordon Osing on Town Down River. Roger was especially proud of his most recent collaboration with D’Army Bailey, The Education of a Black Radical, published by Louisiana State University Press. The star of Roger’s writing career is his seven-volume fantasy novel, Song of the Storm Rider, because he wrote all seven novels during the years he fought the advance of his cancer and because he filled the seven volumes with the enormous range of his interests and knowledge.

Dr. Easson also had an active political life. A life-long Yellow Dog Democrat, Roger was a member of the Shelby County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee from 1993 to 1995. During that service he founded the Party newspaper, The Democrat, which continues to publish today.

Chair of the Department of Literature and Languages Dr. Jeffrey Gross remembers Roger in this way:

“For as long as he could, he continued to write and teach, even as he stared down the inevitable and experienced immense pain. The fact that Roger was a writer, teacher, and learner until he could do those things no longer doesn't surprise me. My first memory was from my campus job interview, when I met Roger, who wore a flap cap, flowered shirt, and jump drive around his neck as he walked me to an interview meeting across campus. On a short walk, he immediately started to tell me about the vampire novel on that jump drive, then more generally about vampires, and then finally changed topics to gardening, as he pointed out the landscaping on campus. That was Roger. He had near encyclopedic knowledge of topics from the academic to the trivial, and he loved to share his knowledge with whoever would listen. He picked up an interest and learned everything he could about it--barbecue, vampires, giant street puppets, rare editions, and so forth.”

Former faculty member in the department of Religious Studies and Associate Dean for Curriculum and Instruction, Professor of Christian Ethics at Memphis Theological Seminary Dr. Peter Gathje also reflected on Roger’s time at CBU:

“Roger was one of my favorite colleagues at CBU. His office was just down the hall from mine and it was a rare day that we did not have a conversation. Religion, politics, the state of libraries, mythology, and history, especially church history, were pretty steady topics for us. Roger liked to tweak me about being a theologian. He was always reading some book that was on the critical edge of biblical studies or theology. I loved his inquisitive nature. He was unafraid to ask any question. He seemed to delight in questions that caused me visible discomfort. There was many a time that his questions or comments sent me into the library looking for some article or book that would help me develop a credible response to an issue he had raised. I became a better teacher, theologian, and human being because of Roger. My last visit with him, a few weeks before he died, was like those conversations we used to share almost daily. And at the end he handed over to me several boxes of books on labyrinths to be donated to the seminary library. He made me promise to read at least some of them. He was still the teacher and questioner goading me on to learn more. I will do my homework assignment Roger. Thank you.”

Below are additional memories of Dr. Easson from faculty in the Rosa Deal School of Arts:

“Not long after Roger received his cancer diagnosis, I visited him along with another CBU faculty member. As we were leaving, Roger gave each of us a card on which was printed a prayer written by Thomas Merton, a prayer Roger said had special meaning for him. He had a whole stack of cards to give to his visitors. For me, this gesture epitomizes Roger’s generous spirit. He always wanted to share. As a teacher of CBU students, he freely and enthusiastically shared his knowledge—of mythology and Romantic poetry, business writing and barbecue. He was generous with his colleagues, too. I’ll bet he never read a book that he didn’t want to talk about, and he read everything. He loved literature and history and theology in particular, and he seemed always to be finding books about a wonderful range of subjects: the history of coffee, Egyptian burial customs, or the cultural importance of olive cultivation. He’d tell me about his latest discovery and then offer to lend or give me the book.  I’ll remember the shared books, the conversations over good coffee, his resounding voice, and his hoots of laughter from down the hall. I’ll think of him when I look at the Canterbury pilgrims on my wall or sit in the green chair in my office—both gifts from Roger when he moved out of his office—or when I check out a book he donated to the campus library. I will remember especially Roger’s generosity in sharing himself. His willingness to be vulnerable—to share with us what he was learning from the physical and spiritual experiences of his illness—was truly an act of love and the sign of a beautiful and generous heart.  I will miss him.”

-Dr. Ann Marie Wranovix, Professor of Literature and Languages

“My main memories of Roger are of a man who could carry on a conversation on almost any subject imaginable. The diversity of his interests and experience was remarkable. I remember several conversations on the topics of "monsters" one semester when he was teaching a special topics course on "monstrous literature" and I was teaching science fiction and politics. I learned a lot from from those talks. Of course, Roger could take a scholarly interest in monster tales and channel it into his own novels. Such a creative mind! Like many of our colleagues will confirm, Roger was always willing help with advice and encouragement. He was a fine friend, a generous colleague and a wonderful man who understood the importance of experiencing wonder.”

-Dr. Karl A. Leib, Associate Professor of History and Political Science

Please keep Roger and his family in your thoughts and prayers. A celebration for Roger Easson will take place on Saturday, November 19 at First Congregational Church (First Congo) 1000 South Cooper, Memphis, TN 38104. Come at 1:00 p.m. if you wish to participate on the Labyrinth. The program will begin at 2:00pm. 

There is also an online tribute page at the Memorial Park website.

Posted by Joshua Colfer at 9:02 AM