Carleton College News Bureau

 

Contact: Marla Holt, Director
MHolt@acs.carleton.edu
(507) 646-4183

Feb. 4, 2000
Sp57

Carleton Emeritus Professor of English Philip Sheridan Dies

Northfield, Minn.--E. Philip Sheridan, emeritus professor of English at Carleton College and former resident of Northfield, died on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2000, at his home in Barrington, R. I. He was 83.

Sheridan, whose specialty was in renaissance and medieval literature, taught in Carleton's English department for 27 years. He is remembered by his colleagues as a thoughtful and learned scholar, and a private man of integrity and principle, although on the surface he appeared as the quintessential absent-minded professor-an eccentric who was often seen talking to himself.

"You really didn't get to know Phil until you had been around him for at least 30 years," said Owen Jenkins, emeritus professor of English at Carleton and Sheridan's longtime friend. "He was a man of books and a wonderful colleague who could be hilariously funny. He remained very private-I admired him most for that."

Sheridan was also known for his fondness for exotic animals like tropical birds, fish and tortoises, many of which he kept at his home in Northfield. A competent botanist and zoologist, he was a member of the New York Zoological Society and the American Conifer Society, in addition to his membership in the Modern Language Association and the Early English Text Society.

Sheridan joined the Carleton faculty in 1952 and served as department chair from 1967-70. For many years he served as Carleton's faculty representative to the Midwest Athletic Conference, and was elected its vice president in 1973.

A number of Sheridan's colleagues noted that he was an avid reader who had enormous respect for his material. His catalog description for his course on John Milton was simply "the works of Milton." "He realized the material could stand alone-he knew he didn't need to jazz it up," said Emeritus Professor of English Wayne Carver, who taught in the English department with Sheridan for many years. "Phil spent half an hour before each Milton class writing his thoughts on the text for the day into a blue book. His students respected him enormously for his preparation and his knowledge."

Sheridan also taught a course on Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene and that class made a deep impression on Carolyn Soule, a 1958 graduate of Carleton who currently serves as secretary to the English department faculty. She recalled his quiet lecturing style, and that he differed from many professors at the time who were more flamboyant and dramatic.

"We discovered it was very important to sit close to hear all of his lecture, because he was so soft-spoken. We especially didn't want to miss the humorous asides he spoke in even softer tones," Soule said. "We hung on his every word-he really made the poem come alive for us." She remembered that Sheridan would occasionally hold class in the tea room, treating students to coffee and donuts. He also smoked a pipe in class, and it was the students' special duty to keep him from placing his lit pipe in his jacket pocket.

Born on July 9, 1916, in Merced, Calif., Sheridan was raised in Palo Alto, Calif., where he graduated from Palo Alto High School. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Stanford University before serving in the U.S. Army for three years during World War II.

According to Jenkins, Sheridan was particularly proud of his military service, although he rarely mentioned it. Rising from the rank of private to staff sergeant, Sheridan's tour of duty took place in North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.

"Phil was a real military hero," Jenkins said. "I think most people will be shocked to learn that he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, in the combat Command B of the 7th Armored Division that stopped the SS Panzer Division cold. He fought long and hard, and was extremely proud of that."

Carver recalled once asking Sheridan about his journey across the Atlantic Ocean on his way to North Africa. "He traveled on a very small troop ship, and I suggested to him that that must have been a very rough crossing," Carver said. "He replied, 'no, not really.' Apparently a new edition of Milton had just come out and he crawled into a corner of the ship and read during the entire crossing."

After the war, Sheridan received his Ph.D. in English from Yale University in 1949. He was an instructor of English at California Institute of Technology in 1945-46 and at Yale from 1948 to 1952. In 1950, he married Harriet S. Waltzer, with whom he had two daughters, Alison and Ruth.

Sheridan's wife also taught English at Carleton. She served as dean of the college at Carleton from 1976 to 1979, when she left to become the academic dean at Brown University. Sheridan took a terminal leave from Carleton to join her at Brown, where he immersed himself in a research project on Tudor history and English literature, with specific focus on historian Edward Hall. Sheridan officially retired from Carleton in 1981.

Sheridan was preceded in death by his wife, Harriet. He is survived by his daughters, Alison Buffum of Narragansett, R.I., and Ruth Sheridan of Los Angeles, and five grandchildren. There will be a memorial mass at 11 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2000, at the St. John's Church in Newport, R.I. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Sheridan's memory to the Rhode Island Zoological Society, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Elmwood Avenue, Providence, R.I., 02905.

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