Messages and Condolences
Rochester’s Department of English is remembering Russell Peck as an extraordinary teacher, mentor, editor, and medievalist.
A driving force in the medievalist community, Peck was the founder and general editor of the Middle English Text Series and was a pioneer in the field of digital humanities. He also helped tremendously in the foundation of the Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University.
His career in the English department spanned more than five decades. Peck was a fierce advocate for the arts—stewarding the department’s theatre programs in Stratford and London, which shaped countless students’ lives and education. His commitment to teaching, scholarship, and inclusion, especially in the medieval field, will forever be a part of his legacy.
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“With his boundless intellect, energy, and generosity of spirit, Russell was the epitome of everything that is great about the liberal arts—and his extraordinary partnership with the incredibly talented Ruth was an utter inspiration. I cherish the memories from my many theatre experiences with them in London and Stratford, Canada—two shows a day, every day, with lively and insightful discussions! And the Peck Artistic Directorship will always be something that I am enormously proud to have helped establish.”
Janice Willett ’78S (MBA)
“Such brilliance and verve. Nearly 30 years later, I can still quote from lectures Professor Peck delivered in the classes I took with him as an undergraduate. As dynamic an expositor of literature as he was for us, he was an equally good listener: always interested in his students' perspectives and experiences, unfailingly generous with his time and insight, patient with the foibles of youth. I join countless others in expressing my enduring gratitude for what Professor Peck gave us and my condolences to his family, friends and colleagues."
George Yannopoulos ’97 (BA)
“I'll never forget Professor Peck's energy, his wide-ranging enthusiasms, and his generosity — in time, sympathy, food, and videos related to King Arthur and medievalism — to struggling and stressed-out students. Also—little known fact—he was a terrific dancer, as I found out when he came to my wedding! He was one of a kind. My condolences to his family and all those who miss him."
Pauline J. Alama ’98 (PhD)
“I took Professor Peck's Chaucer class as a biology major, Sophomore year, Fall 1978. I always wished I might have the opportunity to go back to the English Department to see Professor Peck, to let him know that, while I wasn't a standout student, his class left an indelible mark on me — that I thought of Chaucer whenever my 'purse' was empty ('be heavy again!'), and that after many years, I had not 'found the remedy'"
Michael D. Johnson ’81 (BA)
“I had the very good fortune of enrolling in Russell's graduate seminar in Middle English literature in the mid-1970's. While primarily interested in 20th century fiction, I thought that venturing beyond my usual literary periods and genres would be beneficial to me and better prepare me for the comprehensive examination required by the M.A. program. Of course, as all of you know having had Russell as a teacher was far more than just that. He was erudite, personable, compelling, and wholly entertaining in every way. As my life went on with me working as an academic librarian, I became increasingly familiar with the Middle Ages and came to regret with each passing year my missed opportunity to focus on the early period of English rather than the modern period. For that, I'm regretful but thankful to this day that my exposure to that era was masterfully instilled thanks to Russell. R.I.P."
James Kelly '77 (MA)
"I began as a general sciences major at Rochester in 1967 and flipped a coin to choose which mandatory English course to take and it landed on Chaucer rather than Milton. From the first class, I was hooked on Professor Peck's Medieval world and its oral/aural culture. Little did I know then how profoundly it would shape my future into becoming a neuroscientist who investigates how children process auditory signals to develop language and ultimately, reading. I reveled in renditions of "Sumer is icumin in" and marveled at Russell's unbridled enthusiasm for teaching us, sitting cross-legged on the table in front of class. He made the literature bound into life in its Middle English tongue and awakened my humanity through his interpretive lessons - finding a core place in my soul with one particular Canterbury Tale that I've kept in my heart ever since. I was deeply honored when Russell asked me to write a letter of recommendation for the E. Harris Harbison Award from the Danforth Foundation and thrilled when he most deservedly received it. Trips to Rochester to visit family or attend Meliora meant another opportunity to meet Russell for lunch, attend a student production, visit his library, or have pie with Ruth—and I will cherish every one of those moments with this delightful man forever."
Debbie Moncrieff '71 (BA)
"Such energy! Incredible devotion to his work and his students. I was lucky enough to be on Russell's first trek to the farm in Ontario one Canadian spring. The world was growing green; Ruth and the family showed up to plant a garden—which we would return to in the fall. Medieval literature took on fresh meaning in that place, and among such friends. In his attic study, Russell pushed for the best we could do. (He later sent us postcards with our grades.) Will brought a mandolin. Neighbours brought lunch and bagpipes. We danced, and my feet did not touch the floor. Thank you, Russell. Rest in love."
Nancy Barnard Starr '75 (BA)
"Professor Peck made a lasting impression on me as he did on so many students. I didn’t appreciate until later in life how much we had in common (both of us were raised on dairy farms; after graduation I spent a year in his native state of Wyoming working as a VISTA volunteer), and in some ways he was a father figure for me during my undergraduate years. My most lasting memory of him was when, in the weeks leading up to my graduation, Professor Peck returned from academic leave to ensure that my classmates and I received the traditionally festive diploma ceremony from the English department, complete with photos that he himself took. That epitomized his dedication to his students as well as his artistry."
Glenn Cerosaletti '91 (BA), '03 (MA); staff member 1996-present
"Russell taught one of my first and best graduate courses, History of the English Language. His passion for language influenced my eventual choice of special field. Later, he directed the required experience in apprentice teaching. I remember thinking that the Department could not have made a better choice. When my first thesis director left the University, Russell stepped in and supported my struggle to complete the task while working full time in Boston. For each chapter he sent long, learned, hand-written critiques which I still have. That thesis became my first book, "The Genre of Troilus and Criseyde" (Cornell). From afar I followed the amazing unfolding of his career in scholarship and teaching, and was honored to contribute to his Festschrift, 'Retelling Tales.' Recently, we had an occasion to exchange letters. I cherish that final contact."
Monica McAlpine, '72 (PhD), Professor Emerita, UMass Boston