I was saddened to hear of the passing of Professor of History Barry McGill ["Losses in the Oberlin Family," Fall-Winter 1996 OAM]. I hope this letter will convey how meaningful an influence he had on my life and career.
As a Marshall Fellow, Professor McGill had the opportunity to study both at Yale and Oxford Universities. Consequently, his teaching style was decidedly old school. In the late 1980s, when I was an Oberlin undergrad, I had encountered very few educational experiences quite like his courses.
On the surface, his surveys of English history, with their in-depth lectures and high academic standards, appeared to be characterized by his seeming aloofness. Eventually I got to know Professor McGill better, having declared a history major and deciding on graduate work in English history, and I found the veneer of old-school aloofness to be inaccurate. During a private reading, I had the pleasure of spending many afternoons with him, one on one. During these meetings he would often relate experiences from his days at Oxford, or we would discuss topics in English history and my plans for graduate school.
My experiences with Professor McGill formed the foundation of my master's thesis (which I dedicated to him), and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to know him both as a teacher and as a friend. As a PhD candidate and instructor I hope to keep the spirit of Professor McGill alive for many generations to come.
--Bill Bettler '90
West Lafayette, Indiana
My first memory of Professor Barry McGill is of arguing with him in his hot stuffy office, a heaping pile of his cigarette butts in the glass ashtray between us. I was an upset freshman, angry because he refused to give me any credits for an Advanced Placement Exam in modern European history on which I had earned the highest possible score. He was requiring me to take his introductory class because he disagreed with some things I had written about the Renaissance. He said my responses might be good enough for the A.P. graders, but not good enough for Barry McGill.
So, indignantly, I took his introductory European history class and, chagrined, realized that he was right. I wound up taking class after class with him, and eventually asked him to be my honors advisor. I have never regretted a moment in one of his classes, not even the mandatory ones held the day after Thanksgiving.
A genuine historian, Barry McGill lived and loved the past. He would speak of Queen Elizabeth I with an energy and passion that brought her alive for us. He was tough, with a sharp wit that never allowed you to let down your guard around him. He was constantly sparring and challenging. But he was also tender and truly loved his field and his students, an academic who genuinely cared that history was learned, and learned well enough for Barry McGill. Farewell to a true scholar and excellent man.
--Erica T. Dubno '89
Brooklyn, New York