May 23, 2011

Memorial planned for UW emeritus Professor Eugene Vance

A memorial service for Eugene Vance, a UW professor emeritus of French, comparative literature and comparative religion, will be held from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, May 27, in the Smith Room of Suzzallo Library.

Guests are asked to RSVP to Jennifer Keene at jkeene@u.washington.edu.

Eugene Vance

Eugene Vance

Vance, 77, died May 14 in the crash of a one-seat, lightweight plane at Arlington Municipal Airport.

“He was a passionate intellectual presence on our campus for 20 years, and his passion for the life of the mind never dimmed,” said Robert Stacey, divisional dean of Arts and Humanities.  “The world is diminished whenever we lose someone like Gene Vance.”

“Gene studied Elizabethan literature and then moved into French medieval studies. He brought fresh eyes and was able to see many things people already in the field didnt see,” said Marshall Brown, a UW professor of comparative literature.

It meant new angles in Vances writing and connection with different scholars. While teaching at the University of Montreal, for example, Vance hosted thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructionist literary theory.

A native of Newton, Mass., Vance held a doctorate from Cornell University, a diplôme from the Centre Université des Hautes Études Européenes at the Université of Strasbourg, a masters degree from Cornell and a bachelors from Dartmouth College.

Vances son Jacob Vance remembered his father as a man of passionate interests: “He loved children, and engaged us in ideas; he loved ideas and was a deep thinker, but also taught us skiing and sailing. Every week for nine years, he took my sister downtown so she could participate in the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. My father was a deeply social person but also a scholar who could sit and work at his desk for many hours.”

“I had Gene Vance as a professor of literary theory in a very small seminar, and have seldom had the chance to study with anyone of such warmth, intellect and expertise,” said Nancy White, who obtained her doctorate at the UW and is an acting instructor in the Department of Comparative Literature.

At the time of his death, Vance was writing a book about the history of Christianity in late antique Italy, focusing on the mosaics of Ravenna. His other books include From Topic to Tale: Logic and Narrativity in the Middle Ages (1987), Mervelous Signals: Poetics and Sign Theory in the Middle Ages (1986) and Reading the Song of Roland (1970).

Along with his son Jacob, Vance is survived by a son, Adam Vance; a daughter, Anna Shenjing Vance; and a granddaughter, Yana Milena Vance. The family asks that memorials be directed to the Vance Endowment Fund for French Studies (Division of French and Italian Studies, UW, C254 Padelford Hall, Box 354361, Seattle, Wash., 98195).

Jim ODonnell, a friend and fellow medievalist, remembered Vance in lines from James Joyces short story, “The Dead”: “One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”