Deceased October 14, 2017

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In Memory

Sadly, one of our most distinguished classmates in the “Hurricane” class of ’42 has left us. Richard Purdy Wilbur, the illustrious poet and translator, passed away Oct. 14 at the age of 96. Born in New York City, he was the son of Lawrence L. Wilbur and Helen Ruth (Purdy). Dick came to Amherst from Montclair High School in New Jersey. At Amherst his talents in English were immediately evident. He assumed a leading role in the Amherst Student (the college newspaper), Touchstone (the literary magazine) and, later, the honor societies Scarab and Sphinx, and the Political Union. His fraternity was Chi Psi. During World War II, Dick served in Italy and France, after which he earned an M.A. at Harvard (1947).

In the celebrated career that followed, Dick taught at a succession of colleges—Harvard, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Smith and finally back in Amherst—while at the same time writing and publishing multiple collections of poems, from The Beautiful Changes and Other Poems (1947) to Anterooms (2010); translating Molière, Corneille and Racine; and writing lyrics for the theater (Candide). His work brought him increasing renown and numerous honors, including Poet Laureate of the United States and two Pulitzer Prizes for poetry. Equally important in his impact on those who knew him was the generosity, civility and graciousness that infused his relationships with students and colleagues wherever he lived and worked.

His wife of 65 years, Charlotte Hayes Ward (Smith ’43), died in 2007. Supported by his children—daughter Ellen and sons Christopher, Nathan ’73 and Aaron—Dick continued to live and work in his Cummington, Mass., home. This summer, he moved to a nursing home in Belmont, Mass., to be nearer his children. There, he quietly came to the end of his rich life.

Richard Ward ’42