Chauncey Wood, 1935-2020

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Chauncey Wood, 1935-2020

A Tribute by Sidney Gottlieb, Editor, George Herbert Journal

I have spent many years with George Herbert, and the better part of that time – truly the better part, qualitatively as well as arithmetically – has been alongside Chauncey Wood, usually at a distance but always feeling that he was close. For me, there is Herbert before Chauncey and Herbert after Chauncey, and the glow of the latter surely has warmed everyone now reading what I am writing. That is why I am so sad to write that he died on March 27, 2020, at the Hospice of the Valley, Phoenix, Arizona, after a long battle with cancer. He is survived by Sarah, his loving, beloved, and inseparable wife of more than fifty-eight years, two daughters, Stephanie and Jennifer, and a granddaughter, Vanessa.

Although he lived elsewhere for most of his life, Chauncey was a proud New Jerseyan. He was born in Englewood on June 16, 1935, grew up in Tenafly, and went to Tenafly High School, Union College, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and then Princeton University, where he received his Ph.D., specializing in medieval literature, attracted to this field particularly after being introduced to it by legendary Princeton professor and scholar D.W. Robertson. Chauncey taught briefly at Hollins College, University of Cincinnati, and the University of Wisconsin before moving to McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where he was an extraordinarily dedicated, popular, and effective teacher (recognized by a Best Teacher award) and administrator and prolific researcher and scholarly writer until he retired in 1996. But retirement is not a word that can be easily applied to Chauncey, and he went on to be a visiting professor at numerous institutions, including Western Michigan University, College of Charleston, University of New Mexico (Albuquerque), and the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (the latter as Distinguished Visiting Professor, where the students liked him so much they formally petitioned to have him come back).

We know him primarily as a Herbertian – and in many ways as the Herbertian. Some years ago I took great pleasure in not entirely jokingly introducing him at a conference as the current Godfather of Herbert Studies, a position of honor that was well earned: as author of numerous finely written and deeply researched articles on Herbert; teacher and mentor to lots of people doing important and often subsequently published work on Herbert; absolutely indefatigable and wise consultant reader of papers submitted to the George Herbert Journal; conference organizer; co-founder and reliable advisor to the George Herbert Society; and on and on. But there’s so much more: Chauncey chased birds and butterflies as well as Herbert. He and Sarah were out every weekend, and through the years traveled widely and birded from Manitoba to Key West, the Everglades, and the Rio Grande. And though for many years I have been in constant touch with him, I’m now realizing that I still missed things about him, which Sarah continues to fill me in on: Chauncey and I corresponded constantly about our shared love of the New York Knicks, but I didn’t realize that he was “a pretty good basketball player up until his retirement.” And though I knew he had a keen ear for Herbert’s musicality, I didn’t know that he was a talented jazz clarinetist. I did know that he was a photographer, and have copies of some of his stunning and radiant shots of butterflies. But my favorite Chauncey picture is not one he shot but one he is in, included here,

Chauncey Wood

Dr. Simon Jackson of Cambridge University receives the inaugural Chauncey Wood Dissertation Prize of the George Herbert Society from Dr. Sidney Gottlieb of Sacred Heart University, along with Dr. Christopher Hodgkins of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Dr. Chauncey Wood of McMaster University at the Fourth Triennial GHS Conference, Phoenix, Arizona, 17 October 2014.

presenting the first of an award that is so rightly named after him and acknowledges how much he has done for us and how much he is loved, appreciated, and respected.

In his last message to me, knowing that the end was near, he wrote honestly and bravely about “inevitable decline,” gratefully about the hospice care he was receiving, lovingly about Sarah at his side, and cheerfully about ongoing work on his mind, including a talk on “Use and Enjoyment.” We’ll have to fill in the blanks now, but I know that brief title captures so much of what he valued about Herbert, a poet of employment and sweetness; so much of his approach to and accomplishments in life, personal and professional; and so much of what I treasure and will always remember about dear Chauncey. I’ll never forget my first impression when I met him many years ago: what an intelligent, accomplished, charming, warm person . . . and what a smile! His last words to me captured and conveyed that smile: “Beautiful spring weather here – we enjoy it as best we can.” That’s exactly what he did, and what he spread around him, throughout a very full lifetime.

Butterfly on flower Butterfly on flower

Photographs by Chauncey Wood