Last week the English department lost two stellar professors, and I lost two dear friends. When Sue Lundin, wife of Roger Lundin, Arthur F. Holmes professor of faith and learning, called me early last Friday morning to tell me that Roger had died very suddenly during the night, I was so stunned I could hardly speak.
Lundin, chair and professor of English Sharon Coolidge and I came to Wheaton within three to four years of each other. We were the “youngsters” of the department for longer than we thought reasonable, and because of that we formed ties that have lasted almost 40 years. Lundin became for me the paradigm of the Christian scholar, teacher, servant. In fact, when we conducted a nationwide search for the right person to occupy the Arthur Holmes chair of faith and learning, the search committee kept referring to Lundin as the model of what we were looking for: a scholar who not only participated in the faith and learning endeavor but one who also spoke and wrote about thinking in an integrative manner. We suddenly realized during one meeting that the person we were looking for was Lundin himself.
So after serving as the Clyde S. Kilby Chair and a Blanchard professor, Lundin became the Holmes Chair. Writing on topics as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Emerson and literature and the question of belief, Lundin produced award-winning books, passionately conceived, elegantly written and persuasively argued.
Associate professor of English Brett Foster, awarded the title of “Writer in Residence” this fall, was actually my replacement in the English department after I became dean. When we eventually found Foster in 2005, I was delighted because I knew that we had hired a fine poet and an exceptionally promising Renaissance and 17th century scholar.
As it turned out, Brett brought Wheaton so much more than we realized at the time. Yes, he came to us well-credentialed, with graduate degrees from Boston University and Yale. Yes, he had also held the prestigious Stegner fellowship in poetry at Stanford, and his connections in the worlds of poetry and of literary studies were prolific and impressive. But Brett brought more than an impeccable creative and scholarly record. He endeared himself to students and to colleagues — he brought in several poets and fiction writers each year for readings and class visits, he took students to conferences and to readings in the city, he lectured at the pre-performance events at the Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier and he was constantly on the move, lecturing, giving readings and teaching across the country.
His own writing captured truth in every line, especially in the last year and a half since his diagnosis of colon cancer. I published many of his poems in the journal on which I serve as poetry editor, including the most memorable “Sad Little Patriarch, Rubbing His Gloved Hands Together,” in which he describes the effects of chemo which forced him to protect his skin from the needle-point winds of a Chicago winter.
It is, of course, impossible to replace these two men. The English department and colleagues from across the country will feel their loss keenly. For next semester, English department colleagues probably will pick up some of the courses these men taught, and we will make a few temporary hires to cover other gaps in the curriculum. Then the department must decide how to move forward and what form any future job searches will take.