David was a forceful presence on the UW campus—teacher, scholar, colleague, gentleman—and probably the most frequent user of its resources that Suzzallo Library has ever seen. Since I had done my dissertation on the 14th-century Piers Plowman, I was aware that David held the heretical view that the longer versions of the poem were not authorial revisions, but rather the work of John Trevisa. I was not aware, however, of the almost prophetic intensity with which David held these views. He never set out to enlist me as a disciple, but did succeed in persuading me to healthy critical skepticism about “William Langland.” He expected from others the kind of intellectual curiosity, disciplined research, and originality of thought he demonstrated in his own work, and he expected them to defend their views with clarity and force. A firm believer in the productive dialectic of scholarship and debate, he was a gentle man of kind and unfailingly generous spirit.
I was a student in his last Piers Plowman seminar in 1991. It was the beginning of the Gulf War, and I was an angry peacenik who resented the fact that the UW seemed to be going on as usual as bombs were falling. After the war began, Fowler ended a seminar meeting by reminding us that these were days of decision. Though he never once made reference to the war at hand, he pointed out that the author of Piers spoke out against the medieval imperialist dream of a clash of civilizations with the east, since “we both worship one God,” and finished by loudly observing, “and by the way, I seem to remember somebody somewhere saying ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” It was a pivotal moment for me.
—Sean Taylor (Ph.D. '95)
Bill was among the pioneers of the scholarly field of rhetoric and composition— though when I first met him in 1972 I saw him only as a genial, if very ironically so, Director of Expository Writing. He was an ex-officio member of every department committee, and he knew and held in a kind of thrall most of the graduate student population. He was seen by the department as a figure of mystery, even threat.
As proprietor of the Holt Writers’ Guide for many years, he took real pride in the section on the history of English. He was a lover of opera and a drinker of martinis—each Christmas he received from the publisher a thank-you case of Bombay gin. Late in his career I ran into him at the 4C’s. I was on my way to the Holt party and asked him when he was going to get there. He wasn’t going, he said. They hadn’t invited him—the man who more or less put the Holt Guide on the map! He was ironic about that, too.
The two greatest things Bill taught me in his composition class that I still use everyday in my own classes are, first, that writing is a heuristic and a process of discovery, not a finished product. Second, just because I can comment on a student’s paper does not mean I should.
Some people knew Bill as a lion, someone to be revered and feared. But what those people didn’t know is that Bill was the most gentle, generous, and loving human being imaginable. He would never get in an argument. He let me go on and on and just waited patiently for me to realize I was wrong. Life, to him, was a heuristic, and he gave others the privilege of discovering on their own.
—Jim Schindler (M.A.T. '81)
Sherry had been the presiding spirit of the undergraduate advising office since 1971. She will always be remembered for her acute understanding and lively intellect; her passionate engagement with everything from medieval poetry to Dancing with the Stars; her famous love of cats; her humor and skill with the “sharpened” pen; her integrity, honesty, and highly developed sense of justice; and even her stubbornness and moments of cantankerousness. Sherry loved the department, the work it did, the students, and the scholars. It was not just a job for her, it was a home, and we were all the recipients of a kind of loyalty that is exceedingly rare today.
Sherry’s occasional blustery exterior never camouflaged her sharp intellect nor her inner kindness. I feel privileged to have known Sherry for 24 years, and I considered her a friend as well as a colleague. Sherry had my absolute respect.
I first met Sherry when I came into English Advising in 1982 as a new student. She invited me to have a seat in the narrow, dim corridor outside the advising offices. I think my memory may be colored by the affection I subsequently developed for Sherry: she probably didn’t invite me to sit; it’s more likely that she ordered me to. I was privileged to work closely with Sherry every day in the Advising Office, beginning in 2000. She was witty, compassionate, generous, and true, and I enjoyed her sarcasm, generally richly deserved and always delivered with a twinkle in her eye. She was my colleague, and she was my friend.
—Kimberly Swayze (B.A. '92, M.F.A. '95)