Richard C. Williamson

Tribute to retiring faculty member Richard C. Williamson, Charles A. Dana Professor of French, by his colleague Kirk D. Read, associate professor of French


For the first and only time, I will perform the unfathomable. I will put the words “Dick Williamson” and “retiring” in the same sentence. Without a negation.

“Dick Williamson is retiring.”

There. No matter how you chose to define “retiring,” whether as a personal quality of timidity and disengagement or the act of termination of one’s professional life or calling, I think we can be reassured that Dick negates or redefines what it will mean to be a retiree, retired or retiring.

To be clear about this, we need only ask ourselves where Dick is right now. He has chosen as his last official pedagogical experience at Bates to repair to North Africa with 15 students and a beloved colleague, Paqui Lopez, on a Short Term to Morocco. You can be sure that he is soon to be bounding across the Sahara by camel leading the charge into a life-changing cultural experience, tinged as it always is, with wide-eyed adventure and physical endurance: The stories of pedaling the pilgrimage route through southern France and northern Spain as well as the pre-Survivor, Survivor-like adventures of losing oneself in the dense forests of Martinique are already the stuff of legend.

My task here is easier than my other colleagues perhaps because if I am to respect my colleague and mentor’s wishes and remain faithful to his example, I must be brief.

Dick has been to me and to my colleagues…a man of the most generous spirit, the most enthusiastic pedagogical engagement and the most capacious of intellectual interests that the department and the College could have wished for. Like the literary adventurer that he so admired in his scholarship, Jules Verne, Dick has navigated the seas and skies of planet Bates with optimism and grace and good humor for nearly 30 years. I consider myself honored and so, very lucky to have been in his orbit — to further confuse the metaphor, Dick now, a planet unto himself!

For all of Dick’s prowess as an educator and scholar I have been most influenced by his integrity and good judgment as a voice of advocacy for students and for fairness and collegiality among his peers. Dick has always been consistent and masterful at pulling us out of our autonomousness and navel gazing and into the larger good. This is good medicine for all of us who have trouble seeing the larger picture behind the personal dramas that can so often divide us or pull us away from each other.

At a recent meeting of the Foreign Language Association of Maine, Dick was honored for lifetime achievement in the profession. He suffered through the kind words graciously and then quickly took the stage to turn his success back upon those who had bestowed him with this honor — his “pack” as he called us, the howling wolves who have run, loped, trekked, swum, you name it, behind him as he led us to ever more exciting adventures. He credits us all for his success. He is both right and wrong of course: A good pack needs strong leadership and inspiration, and it has been our privilege and joy to have been along for the ride. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy of enthusiasm, optimism, humanity and engagement with students will live on through all of us I’m sure for having been so changed by his example.