Submitted by Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Professor and Chair, Department of Greek and Roman Classics, Temple University
Daniel P. Tompkins passed away on Saturday, June 10th, following a long illness. Dan was born in New York, NY and raised in Montclair, NJ.
Dan received his BA from Dartmouth College in 1962. After completing his doctorate at Yale University in 1968, where Adam Parry in particular was a great influence, he taught first at Wesleyan University (1965–1973) and then Swarthmore College (1974–1976), before finally landing at Temple University. In between Wesleyan and Swarthmore, he was a fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.
Temple’s small Classics department had disappeared in the early 1970s when its faculty departed in a burst of mid-career changes, but then, after a hiatus, faculty in other departments asked Temple’s administration for its return. Dan was hired to resurrect the discipline here from scratch. While this was certainly no small task, Dan, with a legendarily wide-ranging intellect and boundless energy, was ideally suited to this project. His gentle humility and warm, optimistic humanity generated both respect in and affection from others. Dan’s first hire, in 1978, was Martha Davis, and together they forged a student-centered culture that persists to this day. While Dan retired from teaching in 2010, his intellectual DNA has proven remarkably durable in the department.
His magnanimity touched many, as Associate Professor Karen Hersch recalls:
His generosity and goodness to us truly knew no bounds. Some recent kindnesses to us here at Temple: In 2021 and 2022, he graciously agreed to speak as part of our panels on diversity and justice, “Teaching Race in the Ancient Mediterranean at Temple.” I saw him last in person at our winter holiday party, and he was profoundly grateful to be there–suffused with light is an understatement—and all he could talk about was how amazed he was to see such happy, excited and involved students. I was delighted that he continued to write me to share wonderful musings and citations, and I was humbled that he would ask me questions. His last email to me was typical of him, quintessential Dan: he sent me congratulations on our Carleton-Temple conference on women, and added that he wished he had more time with my younger colleagues. We will cherish those words.
Dan’s affable curiosity and concern for his students also made him an outstanding teacher. He was recognized for this work twice: first, with the Excellence in Teaching Award from the American Philological Association in 1980, and, second, with Temple University’s Great Teacher Award in 2009.
Dan wore many different hats at Temple, especially during the latter part of his career when the department’s growth allowed him to spread his wings a bit. He was one of the founders of Temple’s core humanities program, Intellectual Heritage, and served as its director twice (1980–1983, 2000–2005). In between, his passion for student learning led him to the Provost’s office, where he worked as Faculty Fellow for Learning Communities (1993–2000), while also serving on important committees, often chairing them.
The burden of this important work meant that Dan usually did not have enough time for his own research. That said, what he did manage to complete is generally still considered to be significant, especially his work on Thucydides, which is still cited regularly (e.g. “Stylistic Characterization in Thucydides: Nicias and Alcibiades,” Yale Classical Studies: Studies in Fifth Century Thought and Literature, ed. Adam Parry, 22 , pp. 181–214”). After retiring from teaching, Dan pursued his passionate interest in the work of Moses Finley and his intellectual circle, about which he had earlier already published (“The World of Moses Finkelstein: The Year 1939 in M.I. Finley’s Development as a Historian,” Chapter in Michael Meckler, ed., Classical Antiquity and the Politics Of America. Baylor State University Press, 2006. Pp. 95–126). His keen interest in pedagogy and work on learning communities also led to a half-dozen related articles.
Dan had an astonishing range of interests and was capable of enthusiastic and insightful discussion about everything from Wallace Stevens to Thucydides to the Philadelphia Eagles. Many people, both at Temple and around the world, regularly woke up to find a long e-mail message from Dan composed at some odd hour during the night when he had become excited after reading an article about a subject that you had no idea was an concern of his. Such messages persisted to the end of his life.
He is survived by his wife Drew Humphries, his sister Tory Byrne, his daughter Tory Tompkins, and his grandson Tristan.
Daniel Tompkins was a remarkable intellect, a terrific teacher, a tremendous colleague, and, most importantly, a great human being. May his memory be a blessing.
Remembering Dan Tompkins, by Martha Davis, Associate Professor Emerita
Most persons hearing about the death of Dan Tompkins will immediately regret the loss of continued research by him into the work of Thucydides and Finley. He was the expert par excellence in that. But his inquisitive mind ranged over a much wider territory, both of the ancient world and our modern one. He had a prodigious memory and read constantly, so his command of knowledge broadened continuously.
I remember his mastery of the field of Classics, but also his willingness to share what he knew. He answered my questions many times—patiently–and often brought me articles and information he knew I would be interested in. His comments for the listserv Classics-L were perceptive and could provoke lively discussion.
Dan was a good colleague and an outstanding chair of the department he founded. He never shrank from administrative duties and service to the university far beyond our department level. His many honors were well deserved. He pioneered in the development of the Freshman Interdisciplinary Studies Program and was almost solely responsible for creating and maintaining the Intellectual Heritage Program, both of which introduced beginning students to basic knowledge necessary for success in any major.
From a personal standpoint, I thank him first of all that I was hired. He worked to see me through tenure, and I owe him much in the consideration of my own career. He thought it fun that our birthdays were very close together and did not forget to mark the days. The spoon rest on my kitchen counter in the shape of a fish was a small gift from him, one that reminds me daily of his thoughtfulness. He helped me move household—twice. Most of all, he cheered me up. Though I groaned loudly at his awful puns, they punctuated even the dreariest days with humor. The smell of his French press coffee still drifts through my memory of the department.
My own sorrow is great, so it is difficult even to imagine how his death has affected Drew and Tory and the rest of his family. Friends and acquaintances will miss him, and those who knew him only by his work will sense that an important voice is stilled. When we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the Department of Greek and Roman Classics, we presented Dan with a medal. The inscription remains appropriate to this day for those who worked with him: Sine quo non.