In Memoriam: Grace Starry West

(Written by David T. West)

Grace Starry West (1946-2019)

Grace Starry West, 72, died of complications from lung cancer on Sunday, May 19 at her home. She was a member of the SCS since 1973, Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee in 1999, and trustee of the Vergilian Society from 1986-1989. Her name will be especially familiar to Vergilians on account of her groundbreaking UCLA dissertation on “Women in Vergil’s Aeneid” (1975), and to students and colleagues from the University of Dallas, where she helped Classics grow into an outstanding program with three tenured faculty members and a steady flow of majors. As John F. Miller, Professor of Classics at the University of Virginia, recently observed: “Her work on Virgilian women was pioneering; her leadership at Dallas admirable.”

GSW wrote most of her dissertation on Vergil as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Heidelberg (1972-1974). Her doctoral research resulted in a series of articles early in her career, most notably “Vergil’s Helpful Sisters: Anna and Juturna in the Aeneid” (Vergilius 25 [1979]: 10-19); “Caeneus and Dido” (TAPA 110 [1980]: 315-324); and “Andromache and Dido” (AJP 104 [1983]: 257-267). Her most widely read work, however, is doubtless 4 Texts on Socrates (Cornell 1984; Revised Edition 1998), containing Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, & Crito and Aristophanes’ Clouds (co-translated with her husband). This collection remains a popular choice for the college classroom. Soon afterwards she published Bryn Mawr Commentaries on Nepos’s Dion (1985) and Cicero’s Pro Archia (1988).

These commentaries were the outgrowth of her Intermediate Latin courses at the University of Dallas, where she spent most of her career (1975-2011), eventually attaining the rank of Associate Professor of Classics. Early in her time at UD, she was instrumental in growing the Latin side of the program and in galvanizing colleagues to establish Classics as an independent department. While raising four children over the years, GSW taught Greek and Latin at all levels, gave courses in translation on Classical Mythology and Ancient Epic, supervised senior projects in Classics, served as department Chair (1997-2006), and was a tireless and outspoken advocate for the preservation of the Core Curriculum and other mainstays of traditional liberal arts education at UD.

GSW will also be remembered for her support of the greater Classics community in the state of Texas, where she was an active member of the Texas Classical Association and served as President from 1998-2000. Donna Gerard, a longtime friend who taught Latin in public and private schools in Texas, said: “She was always supportive of teaching Latin at all levels. She gave us high school teachers so much help and presented materials at many TCA conferences that were topics she knew could be used at any level. She started the Metroplex Classical Association and hosted it for the DFW area at UD for several years. From that came the impetus to start a reading group to read Latin each month. Several of us still do that.” Likewise, Larry Martin, recent past president of TCA, wrote that “she was an important and supportive mentor for many of us.”

GSW was also a devoted mentor to her students. One young man who was struggling to fulfill an ancient language requirement for his PhD in Political Science at UD recalls: “I would not have gotten through Greek without that woman.” “She was an influential mentor in my life and helped to set me on my current path,” wrote one Classics major from UD who went on to receive her MA from KU and now teaches Latin at a Texas high school. A former student who now works in Washington, D.C. recalled: “She had a firmness and a kindness to her that gave me direction more times than I'd like to count… I got to be her administrative assistant for the UD classics department, and her guest in her home, where I benefited so much from her professorial gatherings that I lucked out with an entire second graduate education… She had a razor sharp, dry wit.” Others concur about her sense of humor: “I took one Latin class with her—I still remember asking her about the upcoming test, and her telling me that it would be fine and I didn’t need to give her ‘that River Tam look’” (for the pop-culturally ignorant, this was apparently an allusion to Firefly). “She was not my official advisor, but she always had time to advise. Her classes were fun, and I enjoyed her humor.”

From 2011, she taught at Hillsdale College, where she was promoted to Professor of Classics in 2016. There, she continued her habit of “switch-hitting,” offering a variety of advanced courses in both languages, such as Aeschylus’ Persians, Euripides’ Bacchae, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, Lucretius, and Catullus’s polymetrics with Caesar’s BG. A note from a recent student reads: “I have greatly enjoyed our Latin class and always look forward to the laughter the class holds… Thanks for all you do for me.” The breadth of her interests continued to show during her Hillsdale years, as she pursued research projects on Vergil’s portraits of Augustus, philosophical connections between the Aeneid and De Officiis, and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.

In her later years as a scholar, GSW also turned to classical depictions of tyranny. At a 2003 conference on ancient tyranny at Cardiff University, she delivered a long paper analyzing this theme in Plato’s Republic and Laws, and Xenophon’s Hiero. She also recently finished a student-oriented philological commentary on the Hiero, which will hopefully soon see the light of day, a fitting last testament to her passion for Greek and Latin pedagogy and philological rigor.

She is survived by her beloved husband of forty-five years, Thomas G. West; her sister-in-law Wende; her children Susannah (Peter), David (Alessia), Michael (Mary), and James (Leslie); and seven grandchildren. Uxor, mater, magistra optima, vale! Requiescas in pace.

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(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0)   

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