Loss of Will Marquess leaves void at Saint Michael’s

Well-loved longtime English instructor was adviser to student literary journal and a bright, gentle spirit, uplifting all who knew him

May 13, 2020
Faculty/staff report

One of the most beloved souls of the Saint Michael’s College faculty, the gentle and brilliant longtime English instructor Will Marquess, died Monday, May 11 after a long illness.

A gifted, witty and joyful writer, Will wrote his own obituary with inimitable style to be shared with the College community. We include it below, followed by some words of tribute about Will shared by faculty, staff and colleagues on social media or via emails — included here with their permission.

William Henry Marquess 

William Marquess never wanted to be the late Will Marquess. He was always early for class, eager to get started.  Often, he began things with a poem, just for a jump-start. Language was the medium. Theodore Roethke said, “I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.”  Lewis Carroll wrote, “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.”

Growing up in southwestern Ohio, he was determined to be shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds, grizzled captain on the wrong side of the American Civil War, or life partner of the actress Barbara Feldon. He meant shortstop, not doorstop. So much for career ambitions.

When his sister requested help with her French vocabulary flash cards, he discovered a world of words: chien, pénombre, perdu.

He had no idea what to do in college, and his parents let him do it anyway. Duke University let him live off-campus, double major in English and French, and spend a year in Paris, where he was befriended by Pascale Molho and her family. What could be bad? Well, lots of things, but la joie venait toujours aprés la peine. He even studied some––enough to get into graduate school.

At Harvard, he made the most lasting friends of his life. Joel Dando, Emily Skoler, Missy Holland, Hank Moses. And he started to find the work of his life––being an RA (“proctor” in Harvard-speak), which taught him to be patient and present, to learn by going where he had to go.

Otherwise, he had no idea what he was doing in graduate school, and they let him do it. He spent a summer in Britain, and found another friend for life, Elaine Petrie. He fell for an Italian woman, and another world opened.

Will never married. His friends, classes, and colleagues became his family. He is survived by his mother, Jane Newton Marquess; his sister Anne Marquess Camp and her family; his brother Jack Marquess and his family; and the family of his late brother, David Reese Marquess. He adored them all. He leaves no progeny but a line of students who, he hopes, will love language as he ever did. And the mome raths outgrabe.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to the general fund of Saint Michael’s College.

— Will Marquess

Tributes and remembrances about Will Marquess posted on social media Tuesday or shared in emails:

* “This most dear man was one of my favorite professors. Unique among humans–wit, mind, and heart. All these years, he has endured in the not-quite-back-of-my-mind, in the pretty-front-part, as someone I always wanted to be in my adulthood. This morning, he was in the front of my mind, before I learned this news, in a memory from my senior year at Saint Michael’s College, where I began to learn to be who I am now. I like to think this morning was a visit, and that there will be many more to come. Will Marquess, I will miss knowing you are here on this ground with me.” – Kerrin McCadden ’88, former student, English teacher at Montpelier High School, published poet

*“I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from and get to know Will during his last two years as a professor, and to tell him personally what an honor it was to receive this year’s Will Marquess Award, just a few weeks back. Thinking of the whole EN Department family right now—we wouldn’t be who we are without you, Will” – Ariel Wish ’20, Onion River Review editor

* “Those of you who were lucky enough to have him as a teacher will remember him—he is one of those people who stay with you forever.” — Valerie Bang-Jensen of the Education faculty on the Education Department Facebook page

* “My dear colleague and friend, Will Marquess, has passed away. He had a passion for writing, of course, but equally loved music and art, over which we had many wonderful conversations. He also possessed a fierce intellect and sharp, dry wit. I will miss him deeply. He was the best of us.” – Bill Ellis, fine arts/music faculty

* “Tip a glass to Will Marquess will you or shed a tear for him. Will Marquess was a man who learned by going where he had to go. My favorite bibliophile, I’d call him. Such a class act. There are too many things to remember — his epic and never matched opening assembly talk disassembling Paul Simon, his eulogy for John Reiss, his Phi Beta Kappa musing on Theodore Roethke’s The Waking — I have the program next to me (last line adapted above), his lovely note to me when my dad died, countless notes of support for my attempts to solve conundrum after conconundrum with student writers and such patience with me, and his joy at so many things. The books he recommended that I bought and read still lie around waiting for another look. The readings, which left me with a spring inmy step, shine in my memory as I bought his books and sent them along to others. Will was dogged at continuing his work even as his sight failed and his health flowed and ebbed. He leaves a legacy of so many students who learned so much. I shall not forget him. RIP William Marquess.” – Richard Kujawa, professor of geography.

*On Tuesday I heard the news that we lost Will Marquess, a kind and generous English professor at Saint Michael’s College, and a friend and mentor. I’ve been processing. I haven’t had the words. I’m graduating tomorrow with a Master of Fine Arts in Writing & Publishing, a step I probably wouldn’t have reached had it not been for his boundless encouragement. He saw my particular brand of weird, my love of words. He teased them out. I am so grateful to him for that.I feel so lucky to have been able to sit down with him in 2017 and interview him about his writing life, and life in general–I feel so lucky that I can turn to our conversation and relive it now. There are so many phrases that feel so prescient, so perfectly appropriate for this moment in time … Boom shacka lacka lacka lacka [the title of Will’s recent book of stories)] — Laura Beth Kujawa, former student

* “Lovely words… wonderful person  … I hadn’t heard. Memory eternal! He had a unique grace … he pronounced my name better than I could!” – Jeanne-Nicolle Mellon Saint-Laurent, former professor of religious studies, now at Marquette University

* “I once heard someone say that we think that a person’s greatest wish is to be loved, but in fact what we crave most is to be known and understood. Will’s eulogy of Professor John Reiss 12 years ago was perhaps the most loving tribute I’ve ever heard because Will understood, with great specificity, what made John wonderful and unique. I often thought that we were all fortunate to be known by Will, a gentle, loving, brilliant, and perceptive man.” – David Mindich, longtime Saint Michael’s journalism professor, author, now at Temple University

* My heart is breaking, along with everyone else’s, I think. Today is my father’s birthday—a day Will always remembered (and with a card for me each year after my father died); he was like that—old-school—with hand-written cards and letters. Will was unfailingly kind and thoughtful, a modest man who paid close attention to everything. He was also brilliant, and a skilled conversationalist.  It was an absolute delight to listen to him discourse on almost any topic — with his elegant phrasing and sharp wit—and I always learned something new from him every time we spoke. He was energizing and inspiring, right up until the end. Will died on May 11, so he died between graduation on May 10 (his last students were in the senior class), and my father’s May 12 birthday. It would be just like Will to do that, in his modest and unassuming way.   — Joan Wry, longtime English faculty colleague, close friend, and daughter of one of Will’s dearest friends and mentors, the late John Reiss, also of the English faculty for much of Will’s early career.

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