Faculty celebrate poetry professor

David DeLaura had planned event that remembered him

The Penn Current
November 21, 2005

English professor David DeLaura was working with colleagues last spring to plan an event that would celebrate Victorian poetry. The event took place last night, but DeLaura was not present.

Along with honoring poetry, the event remembered DeLaura, who suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 74 on April 9.

Several of DeLaura's former colleagues, friends, family members and students read Victorian poetry and shared anecdotes about his life and the verses he knew and loved. Some speakers and members of the audience were moved to tears.

English professor and Faculty Director at the Kelly Writers House Al Filreis said DeLaura wanted the event to focus on poetry.

In celebrating DeLaura's life, "We're cheating a little," he said. "But not much."

Filreis said DeLaura was an extraordinarily well-liked man whose kindness was "so rare."

An expert in Victorian literature and culture, DeLaura came to Penn in 1974 and retired in 1999. He served as chairman of the English Department for five years.

English professor and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Rebecca Bushnell said that though she was initially fearful to work with DeLaura, she quickly grew to love and respect him.

"He was an extraordinary scholar and a wonderful colleague, especially to a young person," Bushnell said. "He taught us what is important, to care deeply about your scholarship and to teach as if your life depends on it."

English professor and DeLaura's former student Vicki Mahaffey, who read several short segments of poems to the audience, said she carries with her a set of memorized poems that she learned from the professor.

"I love Victorian poetry, and the reason is because, for me, Victorian poetry was David," she said.

Michael Dinan, a 1997 College graduate, said he traveled from his home in Connecticut solely to attend the event and honor a professor he called "irreplaceable."

"He was a great educator and scholar and mentor," Dinan said. "He was also a friend, and he has been my strongest tie to the University since I graduated."

The event would have pleased DeLaura, Dinan said.

"He helped design this event, which doesn't surprise me," he said. "He got a kick out of reading poetry to class and out of hearing it."