Nancy Wilkie

19 January 2021
Nancy Wilkie

Nancy Wilkie, age 78, died at home in Northfield on January 18th after a long battle with cancer. Nancy taught at Carleton for 39 years, beginning as an adjunct instructor in Classics in 1974, adding Sociology/Anthropology as one of her home departments, creating and directing the Archaeology program at Carleton, becoming an “honorary member” of the Geology department, and retiring as the William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology, and the Liberal Arts, Emerita.

The breadth of Nancy’s academic and personal interests, her wide-ranging knowledge, and her deep connection and collaboration with many individuals make it difficult for her friends, colleagues, students, and fellow travelers to summarize even her Carleton career. Her academic work included projects in Greece, Egypt, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Nancy also wrote articles about, directed off-campus study programs, and led at least 18 alumni tours between 1993 and 2019 to many more places, including Ethiopia, Kenya, Albania, Croatia, Italy, and the Grand Canyon.  

Nancy was professionally active with the Archaeology Institute of America, receiving their 2021 Outstanding Public Service Award just recently. She was a founding board member, secretary, and then president of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield which seeks to preserve cultural heritage around the world, especially during armed conflict. For many years, Nancy also served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) of the U.S. Department of State.

Carleton celebrated the life of Nancy Wilkie on Saturday, April 24th in a livestreamed video. You can watch the archived video recording and download a PDF of the order of service.

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  • 2021-01-19 14:04:16
    Louis Newman

    I have such clear memories of Nancy, whose office in Leighton was adjacent to ours in the Religion Dept. She brought tremendous energy to everything she did and spoke up regularly (and forthrightly) in Faculty meetings on issues facing the College. An accomplished scholar with an international reputation, she was a strong advocate for providing more support for faculty research over the years. All of us who knew her will miss her greatly.

  • 2021-01-19 14:19:12
    Linda Clader

    Nancy was way more than a colleague, but one of my closest and most-cherished friends. We shared many, many adventures together, way beyond the adventures one experiences just teaching in the same department. Her commitment to her students and her several fields of study were inspiring, and her friendship was a real anchor. I am so grateful for the many years, and the many adventures we shared.

  • 2021-01-19 15:14:10
    Nikki Lamberty

    I worked for Nancy from 1977-1990. She made a huge difference in my work at Carleton - in addition to being her secretary, I was lucky enough to type several books for her on her Greek archaeological digs before computers. I remember when she brought in the newest in Packard-Bell computers with special archaeology programming on it, back in the days of David Porter, Jack Bryce, and Linda Clader. I also recall how very hard she worked to get Carleton to recognize that Archaeology was a field outside of Soc/Anthro with Mary Savina. I remember how excited she got (and I’m sure many students remember, too) when she got funding for her archaeology sandboxes and a place on campus to build them. She always brought students along summer excavations to Greece. She was an amazing storyteller, scholar, and a special friend.

  • 2021-01-19 16:29:07
    Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg

    Dear Nancy, It's hard to imagine you, so full of life and energy, passing to the other side. You were a formidable colleague, forthright and outspoken, and incredibly accomplished. You were also responsive, usually the first to respond to inquiries from your department chairs. You will be missed by many.

    • 2021-01-20 13:56:15
      Ray Beauchamp

      I was a student in the Sri Lanka program in 1997. Nancy led the program that year. She was a teacher, a guide, a leader, and a friend to all of us. She was kind to me in particular, urging me in all the right ways, such as to embed myself in a fishing village and paying no heed to the admonition against actually going on the boats. She noted afterward that she was apparently not supposed to allow that activity. But she seemed glad not to have known that rule. I got the impression that she had gone on many jaunts that stretched the rules. She was an adventurer, in other words. And she encouraged us to adventure as well. Two thirds of the way through the trip that year, Craig joined us. As independent as Nancy was, he seemed to complete her, and he too became a part of that magical term abroad. On this hopeful day, it is difficult to learn this sad news. I will miss Nancy and wish Craig all the best in the years to come

  • 2021-01-19 17:40:37
    Annette Nierobisz

    For many years I was Nancy's junior colleague in the SOAN Department. There was so much to appreciate about Nancy. She was dedicated to her teaching and research but didn't take herself too seriously; she lived a life full of adventure and was filled with joie de vivre; and she played many important leadership roles in the field of Archaeology. Even more importantly, Nancy was dedicated to her friends, family, and students. She was a wonderful role model for a junior colleague and I will always appreciate the lessons she taught me. Rest in peace, Nancy.

  • 2021-01-19 22:42:47
    Heqing Wang


  • 2021-01-19 23:26:22
    John Gendler '70

    What sad news to those of us who had travelled with Nancy. Janet and I were on several trips with Nancy (and some with Craig), and she was always well-prepared, had interesting talks into which she had put time and effort, and most importantly, was a lot of fun, whether it was Mali, India or Peru. Nancy knew a lot about each of those places as we went to important historical and archeological sites.

    This is a big loss to the entire Carleton community, as well as to Craig.

  • 2021-01-20 10:16:33
    Bernadette Pyter Janisch Class ‘69

    Nancy joined the faculty after I graduated but my husband and I had the good fortune to travel with her and Craig twice and to visit them at their North Shore home. Good memories.

  • 2021-01-20 13:13:50
    Kelly Besecke '92

    I went to Nepal with Jim Fisher and Nancy in 1991. I remember her practicing her Nepali with our guides to pick it up again. I remember her vibrant, cheerful energy as she traveled with us around Nepal and participated in our adventures. I remember her creating Carleton's archeology lab later on. What a wonderful part of Carleton she was; I'm holding her in my memories with warmth and fondness.

  • 2021-01-20 13:35:07
    Megan Narvey '13

    I was a student of Nancy's in the archaeology department. She played a crucial role in helping me embark on my career in cultural heritage conservation, and sent me off with so much good advice. She was so accomplished and such an inspiration to her students. I'll always think of her as one of my most important mentors.

  • 2021-01-20 15:34:11
    John Doershuk '80

    Nancy was, without doubt, my favorite professor at Carleton and truly an inspiration! Nancy graciously put up with my passing fancy with Greek archaeology and fueled my passion to excel in Midwestern Archaeology. I'm sure it was her recommendation letter that secured my acceptance at Northwestern University for grad school and I also appreciated her keeping up with my career progress and family. It was a real treat to return to Carleton a few years ago and be part of the scene honoring Nancy's career! We'll miss Nancy but never forget her.

  • 2021-01-20 15:53:41

    Nancy! What a delightful person to know and to travel the world with! I will forever cherish the bond of friendship we formed as we co-led the 2004 Carleton Alumni trip to Morocco and Mali. May she rest in peace and may her sweet memories sustain and console Craig and their entire family.

  • 2021-01-20 16:14:28

    We traveled with Nancy six times, and are forever grateful for her insights and friendship. I know she’ll pop into my head every time we board an international flight.

  • 2021-01-20 16:16:41
    Liza Davis ‘16

    So sorry to hear of the passing of this brilliant scholar and person. I took Nancy’s last Archaeological Methods course before her retirement and it started me down the archaeology path—I am now working towards a PhD in the subject. I later worked with Nancy on Blue Shield projects and on the Grevena project (with Prof. Mary Savina, Nancy’s long-time collaborator and friend). She touched many lives, of which mine was but one. Thank you, Nancy, for your lifetime of service and the inspiration you provided to so many.

  • 2021-01-21 02:39:21
    David W. Fermino

    Prof. Wilkie - “Nancy” - I adored her. Brilliant, elegant and funny - she picked me - ME - to travel to Egypt with her to work on the Naukratis Project - a Greco—Roman site in the Southwestern Delta region of Egypt. She opened my eyes to a world that previously had only been part of my dreams. She was preternaturally cool - I recall having a huge crush on her which was weird because I’m gay. Go figure. The Ray-Ban aviators, the smarts, the exceedingly cool vintage BMW - she possessed an innate coolness. After Carleton I attended law school and became a lawyer. In every office I have had since a picture of the two of us in Alexandria occupied a prominent place on my wall. Today - on a day when the sun broke through the clouds I learned of her passing. I guess in a way in makes sense - I can, in fact. “see clearly now, the rain has gone”. Nancy opened up the world to me and I will never - ever - forget her. Godspeed to you Prof. Wilkie.
    With gratitude and deepest respect,
    David Fermino
    Class of ‘82

  • 2021-01-21 07:09:29
    Tessa de Alarcon ‘04

    I owe so much to Nancy and I will miss her guidance, and humor. Her classes were among my favorites at Carleton, and I feel privileged to have been her work study my junior and senior years at Carleton. After Carleton she always remained supportive and stayed in touch as I became an art conservator. I am grateful that in recent years I was able to work with her on the AIA site preservation committee, which I know she cared for deeply. It was a particular joy to work with her on something we both care about and to be not just her student but now also a colleague. I will always hear her lectures in my mind when addressing issues of museum collecting ethics. Her lessons and views have forever shaped the professional I am today. My thoughts are with Craig, and her family, and friends.

  • 2021-01-22 03:15:29
    Alex Knodell

    Nancy was always really wonderful to me, and truly impressive in her service to Carleton and to the wider world of archaeology. When I was hired at Carleton in 2014 I knew I had big shoes to fill. I'm still reminded of this, both at Carleton and elsewhere, when colleagues tell me with a mix of admiration and wonder about what a dynamo Nancy was. And of course she and Mary Savina are the reason that the Archaeology Program exists in the first place and by extension the reason I’m here. When I got to know Nancy, it became clear that we had quite a lot of shared interests and history. I always enjoyed our conversations about common experiences with places, people, institutions, even though they were often separated by some decades. She was also generous with her time in retirement, both at Carleton (visiting classes when invited, attending talks, etc.) and with her work of national and international significance with US Committee of the Blue Shield, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (of the US State Department, by presidential appointment) and the Archaeological Institute of America (of which she was president from 1999 to 2003). This was work of tremendous national and international significance, for which the AIA (the oldest and largest archaeological organization in America) has recognized her with a named lectureship in archaeological heritage and, just this year, with its Outstanding Public Service Award—one of the organization's highest honors. Nancy routinely brought this work home to Carleton in her teaching, in her building of the Archaeology Program, and in leading alumni trips. Most recently, she established the Nancy Wilkie Fellowship for Archaeological Field Experience, which makes possible for students the types of experiences that so enriched her own career. I’m grateful and I feel lucky to have known Nancy for the time that I did. And I often think that Carleton is much fuller for having had her on the faculty for so many years. Archaeology certainly is, both at Carleton and beyond.

  • 2021-01-23 09:53:33
    Michael McNally

    I will always admire you, Nancy. Godspeed.

  • 2021-01-26 23:41:24
    Ruth Carver

    Nancy was a smart, fun, interesting generous, energetic and sparkling person. She was a great teacher who was always willing to share her knowledge and experience. I traveled Sri Lanka, Peri, Tanzania, Grand Canyon etc etc with Nancy & Craig sometimes too.
    What a joy to share experiences with her. We will always be part of her light.

  • 2021-02-07 14:58:43
    Michele Joy ‘77

    Nancy and I came to Carleton at the same time. I took every class she taught and then did some independent study with her, even though I was a French major. I would have majored in archaeology if it had been offered at the time. Upon graduation, she invited me to go with her to dig in Greece -a move that changed my life. I almost went to graduate school in Bronze Age archaeology studying under Colin Renfew, but decided that I didn’t want to teach. I still wonder if I made a mistake. then landed in Minneapolis where Craig and Nancy were kind enough to come to dinner at my house for one of the most memorable meals I have ever made. It was TERRIBLE. Nancy nicely probed whether this was a favorite dish and I admitted that I had never made it before. In true Nancy forthright style, she told me to NEVER try a new dish on guests! While I thought for a time to become an archaeologist, I eventually became a lawyer. Nancy was never bothered by that but caught up with me regularly when she came to Washington for her AIA meetings. A couple of years ago, I was so happy to go on a trip back to Greece with Nancy and Craig. What a great time! And Nancy was the same dynamo, the same impassioned person she had always been. I was so shocked to read this announcement. I had no idea that she was ill.

  • 2021-02-18 12:46:26
    Dean Petrakis

    I did some Independent Study with Nancy both my Freshman and Sophomore years and then took a class with her. She was a gem. She was brilliant but her brilliance was surpassed by her kindness and her steadfast encouragement and devotion to her students. I almost went on a dig to Greece with a program she was running but I elected to do something else that summer. Had I gone, I am sure I would have even more examples of her dedication to learning and to inspiring those around her. Peace to her eternal spirit.

  • 2021-04-13 19:55:59
    Cliff Clark

    I have fond memories of the two faculty seminars that Nancy led: one to Sri Lanka and Cambodia, and the other to
    Australia. As others have commented, she was a bundle of energy and had an amazing knowledge of the famous archeological sites in these areas. Moreover, she had connections to the local site managers and to UNESCO that made our trips so memorable. I shall miss her enthusiasm and friendship. Peace.

  • 2021-04-14 09:40:32
    Brooke Adams '83

    I went on a Carleton Alumni trip to Peru and so enjoyed Nancy's company. She kept the group moving, happy and fascinated. What an accomplished life scholar and perfect representative of Carleton faculty! Glad to have enjoyed the gift of her knowledge and company. Love to Craig and her family.

  • 2021-04-14 11:47:28
    Sharon L. Nelson

    I went on two Carleton alumni trips with Nancy. The first was a cruise on the Mediterranean in 2007 and the second was a tour of India in 2012. I felt immediately that Nancy and I were long lost sisters. Her knowledge, energy, generous spirit and great humor added such value to those trips. I was devastated to read the news in one of the Carleton publications. Sending lots of love to her family and friends as the memorial service approaches.

  • 2021-04-20 11:28:08
    Morag Kersel

    Nancy was an amazing role model and mentor, I miss her. I had the great pleasure of being named an AIA Nancy Wilkie lecturer in Archaeological Heritage. Nancy inspired me to do more to protect the past for local populations and future generations.

  • 2022-07-01 07:06:14
    Trevor McNeil

    Nancy Wilkie is a major reason I went to Carleton. I applied early decision without visiting (from California!) and did a lot of research. Carleton was - might still be - the only liberal arts school with a proper Archaeology program and at the time I was really interested in it. I emailed Professor Wilkie, then the president of the American Institute of Archaeology asking her about the concentration. To my surprise she emailed me right back in a respectful tone ending the communication with “if you have any questions or ideas please let me know” Ideas? A dumb high school student and you’re asking me for ideas? That was extraordinary and kinda sealed the deal for me coming to Carleton. In Northfield I took all her classes and even worked for her in the Archaeology lab in the basement of Goodsell - I loved having the keys to that building! I was sad to hear about her passing but always share that story of her email when people ask how I ended up at Carleton.

    Trevor McNeil ‘04

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