Vern Bailey

14 January 2015
Vern Bailey
Vern Bailey

Vern Bailey, age 83, passed away on Saturday, January 10th after a long illness. Vern taught English at Carleton, beginning as an instructor in 1965 and retiring as the Marjorie Crabb Garbisch Professor of English, Film, and the Liberal Arts in 2000. But 35 years wasn’t enough for the college, and Vern continued to teach his famous film courses occasionally until 2004.  

Many have described Vern as a “Renaissance man.” Not only did he teach writing and literature, but he began teaching linguistics in the late 1960s and was instrumental in founding the Department of Linguistics in 1986. He did the same with film, co-teaching the first cinema class here at Carleton in 1966. With Vern’s help, Film Arts became a major in 1976, leading to the current Cinema and Media Studies Department.  In 1972 and 1992, Vern led off-campus study programs to London. He was also the president of the faculty for three years and chair of the faculty affairs committee for five years.

Vern’s friends and former students all describe his kind and gentle personality, his quick wit, and his wonderful stories of his western heritage, military service, and his many Carleton friends and students. As one former student wrote, “He altered the course of many lives, leading explorations across the globe and into the mind of auteurs. Vern taught many of us how to see into our own lives.”

Vern leaves behind his wife, Marilyn, four children and their spouses, eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. And friends near and far are left with memories of Vern’s keen interest in model airplanes, photography, fishing, and classical music. A more complete obituary will be forthcoming and will be found through the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home at

A memorial service will be held at 2pm on Saturday, February 14th, in Carleton’s Great Hall.

Please keep all of Vern’s family, friends, and former students in your thoughts and prayers.

In sorrow and gratitude,

Posted In


  • 2015-01-14 11:13:39
    Dale K. Haworth

    Vern was indeed a gentle soul, easily sliding in and out of controversies after leaving his mark. I was his colleague in teaching Carleton's first history of film course and I recall his suggestion about our selecting what films to present to the students: "Let's just select our own favorite films and go on from there." We did and we had a ball! Dale K. Haworth, emeritus.

  • 2015-01-14 12:11:48
    Amy E Borden

    I took one of Vern's film classes as a freshman and now sit in my office as an Assistant Professor of Film in Portland. We briefly stayed in touch after school ended -- he was my mentor for my four years at Carleton, but there isn't a week that goes by that I don't think of our conversations, his advice, and the care he took guiding me through college and on to graduate school. He was a lovely man.

  • 2015-01-15 08:35:02
    Tasha Carvell, Class of 97

    Vern was one of the kindest and wisest souls I've ever met. I initially picked him as my advisor because of the kindness - I worked as a minion in the English Department and he was the Chair but even his requests for copying and stapling were made in a way that suggested we were collaborating on an important project together. I'm still grateful to him for steering me away from some seriously silly academic dalliances. And he always read my ridiculous Carletonian articles about the past weekend's Ultimate Frisbee tournaments and would make a point to chat with me about them. Thank you Professor Bailey, for your wisdom and for your especially good heart.

  • 2015-01-15 08:45:29
    Matt Pelikan, 1980

    Sad news. Vern was my favorite professor, hands down, and I probably learned more from him than from any of the many other teachers I've had in my life. A course on the origins of the novel opened my eyes to the powerful notion that literary form is not static but rather evolves in response to changes in society. An 18th-century lit class made daunting authors (Pope! Johnson! Richardson!) seem not merely approachable but actually fun. An advanced writing class encouraged my interest in writing and taught me skills and clever tricks that I still rely on. He was a highly gifted educator, able to be endlessly encouraging while also holding students to high standards. And was a kind and thoughtful guy. I think Vern represented all that is best about Carleton, and I will always feel honored to have had the opportunity to study with him.

  • 2015-01-15 08:47:01
    Alejandro Riera '86

    I mourn today the passing of a great man, a great teacher and an inspiration. A good man, a renaissance man, a man who treated me with kindness and who encouraged me in every single way. I still keep the many papers I wrote for his classes with his encouraging comments. I still remember how he supported me and Bill Velasquez on our efforts to create a special media interest off-campus house. Thank you, Vern, thank you so much for all you taught me

  • 2015-01-15 08:49:05
    Jennifer Blanchard, Class of 1996

    I'm awfully sorry to hear about Vern's passing, and send heartfelt condolences to his family and to his Carleton family. I remember Vern as the first professor who kind of made me feel seen and understood at Carleton--who drew me out of my shell and made me believe I had something to contribute. That made a lasting impression, and meant a lot. Plus he was just so dang funny.

  • 2015-01-15 09:06:12
    Anne Walker '87

    I am so saddened to hear of Vern's passing.  His wisdom and encouragement were invaluable while I was at Carleton and continue with me today.  As a Professor of Literacy Education, I have my students reflect on the teachers who have been most instrumental in their own literacy development, and every semester I talk about Vern, and how he helped me find myself as a writer. I never did become the professional writer that he wanted me to become, but instead I became a teacher of writing, and I share with my students what I learned from Vern all the time! 

  • 2015-01-15 09:29:27
    Pat Davis

    He was a truly lovely man who gave me so much, just by being himself--a kind, generous, and thoughtful teacher. I'm sad to learn of his death. Also, pleased to know how many people's lives he brought light into.

  • 2015-01-15 10:08:04
    Chris Voss '94

    I have such fond memories of Vern and am truly sad to hear of his passing. I always looked forward to his classes as he was such a warm, thoughtful guy who also seemed very interested in your thoughts more than his own. Plus, who else would suggest that we drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at 11:00 am while we watch Blue Velvet? (because we certainly couldn't drink Heineken.....) I enjoyed his English classes and film studies greatly.

  • 2015-01-15 10:13:41
    Cindi Abrams Kingsley

    How I loved his Rhetoric class! "Bailey's Dailies" kept us all writing and editing.  (If you missed a day, you had to replace it with two the next day!) He passed around a few examples of our anonymous works and we were free to make comments without knowing who the writer was.  (It was delightful to catch his eye when hearing my own writing voice described as masculine!) He made it all so much fun.  I appreciated his sense of humor and editorial diligence. And he was such a great guy.  When I think back on the teachers who inspired me, Vern Bailey tops the list.

  • 2015-01-15 10:48:41
    Jack El-Hai '79

    I was a teaching assistant in Vern's Advanced Rhetoric course in 1978, during a time when it seems, in retrospect, that Carleton had an unusually fine and eccentric English Department faculty. Vern contributed kindness, straight talking, his love of literature and film, and his enthusiasm for the writing of his students. In more recent years I sometimes sat awed as a spectator as he and his co-conspirator Wayne Carver discussed over lunch everything from Henry Fielding to the state of the hamburger in Northfield. I will greatly miss Vern.

  • 2015-01-15 12:02:55
    J.G. Preston '80

    My condolences to the Bailey family. I had Vern for senior seminar and very much enjoyed the experience.

  • 2015-01-15 12:46:54
    Laura Beard '84

    Like so many others, I remember Dr. Bailey's wisdom and kindness, both inside and outside of the classroom. He was a true Carl and my thoughts go out to all his family.

  • 2015-01-15 13:37:54
    Karen Shamban '77

    Vern Bailey was my absolute favorite professor at Carleton—I took every class I could from him, including Linguistics (in which I had little interest, but at least learned to "eschew obfuscation"). I was Vern's teaching assistant for several semesters, and learned so much from him about patience, and about editing and advising. Not sure I ever achieved his wonderful soft-spoken ways, though. He used to sign his notes to me "Apeneck Sweeney"—who but Vern would do that? Great memories of wonderful discussions about literature and film (and therefore, life) in his book-filled office. Thanks for everything, Vern—you were a great teacher, mentor, and human being.

  • 2015-01-15 13:44:20
    Michelle (Winn) Baptiste '94

    I remember so well my freshman film seminar with Vern and tell my students about it; I teach writing now at UC Berkeley. I didn't have to take the writing seminar at Carleton because I had AP-ed out, but I chose to, and I have always been so glad that I did!  Vern was also my adviser, and later I declared as an English major.  I definitely looked forward to chats in his office--his warm, humorous, friendly personality.  I send my condolences to the whole family. May beautiful memories sustain you in this time of loss.

  • 2015-01-15 13:46:00
    Jon Reid 1982

    Great man, I have fond memories of him. Condolences to the family and the community.

  • 2015-01-15 14:09:37
    Colleen Frankhart '89

    He will always be my beloved Mr. B., and I cherish not only the student-teacher relationship we had at Carleton, but also the friendship and correspondence we developed afterward. I know I'm just one of hundreds of former students who feel a great loss today.

  • 2015-01-15 15:10:29
    Richard Ashford, '72

    Vern's guiding hand at Stu-Fac Ficks completed my education as an English major, so that it included the 20th century's major art form. Thanks to him, I can get a FEW of the allusions in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

  • 2015-01-15 15:44:10
    Tamsan Lee Beattie, '83

    Vern Bailey was also my favorite professor at Carleton, as well as my academic advisor. I'm incredibly sad to read this news today. I had not known he was ill. He was such a terrific professor, as well as a kind, compassionate human being with a gentle un-biting satiric wit. He was so funny, without ever being cruel. He was an excellent advisor, adeptly guiding angth-ridden young adults toward productive intellectual sublimation. I think of all the wonderful courses he taught, including one of the "introductions" to film and cinema. Just the other day, I was thinking of him, as I watched a classic old film that I had first viewed in one of his classes. Heartfelt condolences, sympathy and prayers to his wife Marilyn, all his kids, grandkids and great grandkids.

  • 2015-01-15 16:02:23
    Pat Meirick, '89

    I remember my film classes with Prof. Bailey fondly. He was so positive in his feedback about my papers that I used those papers (still with his notes in the margins!) as my writing samples when I first sought a newspaper job. (What must the editors have thought when confronted with my musings about the use of sound in "M"? Mainly that I could spell, probably.) Now, I teach my Media and Society students at Oklahoma about film conventions and have my Political Campaign students draw storyboards for their political ads. I am glad Steve Braun '74 solicited videos last summer for a tribute to Prof. Bailey and that I got to tell him (remotely) how much I appreciated his warmth, enthusiasm, and learning.

  • 2015-01-15 16:16:23
    Susan Terwilliger '72

    So sorry to hear of Professor Bailey's passing. His was my very first English class when I entered Carleton in the fall of 1968. He certainly set the bar as a fine teacher and a kind soul. I have many fond memories of his class, lively discussions, and a greater awareness of what it means to study English literature.

  • 2015-01-15 17:21:14
    Marsha Garbisch Harbison, class of '67

    My mother was Marjorie Crabb Garbisch, class of '39. Mr. Bailey embodied the spirit of Carleton, which is what the professorship established by our Dad, Richard G. Garbisch, class of '38, was meant to encourage. Our mother was an English major, played the piano, and loved Carleton. She was President of the Alumni Association, served on a presidential search commitee, and encouraged everybody to go to Carleton. Mr. Bailey was just the professor to continue to encourage the wonderful liberal arts education that Carleton offers. My sincere sympathy and best wishes to his family. --Marsha Garbisch Harbison '67

  • 2015-01-15 18:06:53
    Emily Barr'80

    Vern was not only my professor in many a film and English class, he was also my advisor and remained so for decades after my graduation. He sparked my interest in film which led to my majoring in what was then a new and somewhat avant garde major which in turn led to my career in television. I will forever be grateful to Vern for his kindness, compassion and utter faith in me. When I returned to campus many years after graduation to speak to one of his classes, he expressed such pride and joy in my career that I left feeling ten feet tall. My condolences to the entire Bailey clan. Please know Vern's energy, enthusiasm, intelligence and sense of wonder defined the Carleton experience for me. Emily Barr, '80 Film Studies Major

  • 2015-01-15 19:29:43
    Kirk Ormand, '85

    I am sadder than I can say to hear about Vern Bailey's passing. I took only one class from him -- a first-year seminar called "Enigma Variations" which he taught only once (see below). In it we read a wide range of essays and stories (Malthus' /Essay on Population/, Machiavelli's /The Prince/, short stories by Henry James stick out in my mind) and day by day, week by week, he led us patiently, kindly, and persistently through discussions of them. Vern remained my advisor and unofficial advisor for years after that, and he used to take me to breakfast at the Ole Store when I'd come to town, and we'd sit and visit like the old men we were becoming. I always wanted to /be/ Vern Bailey, to tell, the truth; when I became a college teacher, I tried to model myself on him, though I've never managed to match the way that he pushed each student to his/her abilities with unbounded kindness. I wrote Vern a few years ago, to talk about my own first-year seminar (which was structured much like his, though the readings were different); he responded with the following graceful and typically humble note: "Teaching writing to freshmen ( and covertly to myself at the same time) was one of my favorite classes, especially when the group is small enough to allow and respect candid discussion. I do remember much of our Enigma Variations. I only tried that topic once, and it provided a coherent but expandable metaphor with enough uncertainty to hold the interest of eager freshmen. About the time you left Carleton, I shifted much of my teaching to film related topics -- film history and criticism, film genres, comparing the narrative forms of a novel and the film version of same. The college urged me to do this. The classes were popular, and I designed them to be appealing but demanding -- viewing and discussing two films and writing one essay per week. So I taught lots of film courses but always continued to teach my first love -- the 18c novel. I retired five years ago but relented for one course per year for the next three years. Anything I wanted, so I did auteur topics -- Renoir, Bergman, Hitchcock, Wider, etc. I said enough! one year ago, so I am now "fooly" retired. That means every day is Saturday, and I have a list of chores/jobs/ reading to work at. Always busy but, blessedly, no late night paper grading." The world sorely needs Vern Bailey just now; I'll miss him fiercely, as will so many of us.

  • 2015-01-15 21:27:43
    Mansco Perry '74

    My sincerest condolences to the Bailey family.  Vern was a mentor and friend during my years at Carleton as well as a great teacher of film.  We ran the two film series and collaborated on building a small but memorial silent film collection which others were able to enjoy after I graduated.  He was a kind and patient gentleman who help broaden my experiences at Carleton and my appreciation of film.  While we are saddened by his passing, we are  grateful for having had the opportunity to share part of our lives with him.

  • 2015-01-15 22:03:24
    Richard Armstrong, '74

    Vern was the funniest professor at Carleton. But not everybody knew it, because he had a habit of throwing away his best lines. The funnier his comment or aside was, the softer he'd say it. That's why I always sat in the front row of any Vern Bailey class, along with a few other kids--mostly English majors--who knew the secret. I had no interest in linguistics, for example, but I took his linguistics class just for the sheer entertainment value alone. I also took his film class. Ironically, I just thought of Vern the other day while watching a movie. When discussing a film, Vern used to talk about something he called "the epitomal scene," the one scene in a movie that seemed to capture the theme and message of the entire film. I was watching a movie, eating my popcorn, and I suddenly blurted out, "That's it! The epitomal scene!" Thank you, Vern, and rest in peace.

  • 2015-01-16 10:12:35
    TIm Spurgin '83

    Oh, my goodness.  The message announcing Vern’s death just about broke my heart.  I remember him so fondly and owe him so much.  Like some of the other people who have already written in, I was inspired to try college teaching because of my experience with Vern.  He loved the books he assigned—even Pamela, even Clarissa!—and also loved and enjoyed the time he spent with us.  It is easy to be serious and solemn about teaching, but Vern never made that mistake.  He handled everything with a light touch.  Up there in front of his class, he was not only at work, but also very much at play—and that was the most inspiring lesson of all.  Thanks to everyone who has shared remembrances here, and thanks especially to Vern’s family, friends, and colleagues.  I am sorry for your loss, and glad to have known and learned from such a fine man.

  • 2015-01-16 15:49:58
    Karen Shamban

    So much about Vern I'm sure many of us didn't know:

  • 2015-01-16 17:57:24
    Jennifer Trueman Resek

    One of my favorite memories of Carleton is the aroma and sounds of the coffee percolator during Vern's literary criticism class. Our lively conversation was interrupted only briefly to fill coffee cups and eat cookies (which we signed up to bring each week). He was a brilliant facilitator of great conversation and debate. Plus he was the only person ever able to convince me to watch "Psycho" with my eyes open.

  • 2015-01-18 10:39:04
    Laura (Menard) McGrath

    Such sad news! I had a wonderful time on the '92 study abroad program in London. Vern was a wonderful teacher and he really cared about all of his students. I remember coming back to Carleton for my 5th reunion and seeing him at a reception. He remembered where I had gone to grad school, where I was currently living and what I was doing. He will really be missed.

  • 2015-01-18 22:30:02
    Joel Super '81

    Without Mr. Bailey's Advanced Rhetoric class (and the syllabus I'd saved) I'd have been pretty much at a loss when I faced teaching my first rhetoric class in graduate school. He has my eternal gratitude for that, and will always stand for me as the quintessence of a Carleton professor.

  • 2015-01-28 06:40:28
    Brian D '00

    I am so grateful to Vern for introducing a whole group of us - our freshman lit seminar - to what it meant to be a part of higher education. We explored interesting texts, movies, our own writing... But all as a way (a playful and intellectually sharp way) to get at other things and bigger questions. At the same time he was so welcoming and warm, building relationships with us that would last throughout our years at Carleton. And I know that our group was one of many Carls and others who were influenced by Vern.

  • 2015-02-03 00:05:50
    Tim Munson '94

    Vern was one of the best teachers I've ever had, and I know I'm far from alone in that. I can't see certain film clips without remembering what he said about them. I can't forget his sound writing advice. I'll always treasure the wonderful London trip Laura already mentioned. It was Vern's insight, wit and sense of play that made his classroom such a joy, but his generosity outside of it was remarkable. I recently found a letter he wrote me years after graduation, and reading it over, I was struck by his memory for personal details and how kind and encouraging he was. (I wrote a longer remembrance for him, but it's too lengthy for this forum.) He will be much missed.

  • 2015-02-12 09:52:43
    Mike Hazard

    I grin every time I remember pitching my first film to Vern Bailey.

    We were walking across the Carleton campus in 1969. The film would be filmed underground in tunnels.

    I was imagining something like filming inside my head.

    When I paused, he turned and gently said, “Between the conception and the creation falls the shadow.”

    Actually, for years I misremembered what he said as, “Between the conception and the act lies the shadow.”

    Memory loses once more, with feeling.

    He was quoting T.S. Eliot’s poem, THE HOLLOW MEN.

    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
    Life is very long


    He was right. The dream turned out to be unfilmable. Grin.

  • 2015-02-13 13:20:18
    David Appleyard '61

    Vern was modest about his contributions to Carleton’s governance, but they were significant. In particular, he was extremely effective as president of the faculty and as chair of the faculty affairs committee (FAC). In the 1980s, he led the faculty and the FAC through very difficult times with efficiency, wisdom, grace, wit, and often stunning insight. He was completely without guile and a pleasure to work with. Vern was truly a wise man, and we on the faculty were honored to have him as a colleague.

  • 2015-04-09 07:05:20
    Michele Jiménez, '80

    So sad to see so many of my Carleton professors passing on. I had only one course from Professor Bailey, a writing course my senior year, but it had a big impact. I had asked him for feedback on an essay I had written for, I think, a law school school application. I had an introduction I was quite proud of but which really had nothing to do with the rest of the essay. Professor Bailey helped me "edit" the introduction and by the time we were through, there was only one sentence left! It was a difficult lesson, but it really hit home that sometimes good writing, like spurious dreams of law school, must be abandoned if it doesn't serve a purpose. Learning to let go of that introduction helped develop my critical eye for my current work as a freelance writer and editor.

  • 2015-04-09 10:29:01
    Stephen Paul Johnson '78

    The first gentle and welcoming professor I encountered at Carleton (Rhetoric, Winter Term, 1977). God bless him.

  • 2015-07-01 16:59:47
    Jacqueline Vanhoutte, 1990

    I was so sad to see that we lost Vern Bailey.  He was such an amazing teacher--so warm, so witty, so totally enthralling on his favorite subjects. So kind to his students, so exacting in his demands on us.  I remember the comments that he made on my paper better than I remember the papers themselves. Next to my "problematic," for example, he wrote "I see you are ready for graduate school."  It was not meant a compliment. But he gave lovely compliments, too, and he knew just how to urge his students on to produce their best work. He was in all ways an exemplary teacher. I still want to be like him when I grow up. 

  • 2018-09-09 13:25:22
    Marc Cohen '74

    If it isn't too late to add something, I want to say that I was so sad to learn of Vern's death. He was my advisor for my first two years at Carleton, and in addition to taking two film classes from him, he helped me persuade other professors to accept films as term papers in other classes. Like my co-conspirator Richard Armstrong (see above), I found his linguistics class to be one of the brightest spots of my senior year, and he entertained with some amusement my claim that some things aren't meant to be translated (using a poem by Stephane Mallarme that is unintelligible in its original language to illustrate my point). RIP Vern, but after almost 50 years, I have to say that I still don't like Chris Marker's La Jetee!!