In Memoriam: Robert W. Emery

robert-emeryWhether helping students craft persuasive essays or penning his own songs and poetry, College of General Studies Assistant Dean Robert Emery was devoted to the art of writing. “Rather than specializing in a given period or form of writing, I was interested in them all,” he said, “and indulged this interest shamelessly.”

Emery (GRS’70, SED’81), who directed the CGS Writing Center and taught rhetoric courses at the College, died on June 14, 2010, after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 66.

Born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1943, Emery earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and later earned a master’s degree in English and a doctorate in education from BU. He joined CGS in 1978 as director of the Study Center—a precursor to today’s CGS Writing Center—and eventually took on administrative duties as an assistant dean and teaching responsibilities as an adjunct assistant professor of rhetoric.

Colleagues say Emery was a dedicated teacher, always generous with his time. “He was committed to his students’ growth, as writers but also as thinkers and as people as well,” says Matthew Parfitt, chairman of the rhetoric division. “He was somebody who was enormously experienced and qualified, and yet students felt they had a very personal relationship with him. He was unstinting in the way he gave his time and his gifts to them each individually.”

Emery was humble about his own talents, colleagues say. He made no fuss over his published textbooks, songs, and poetry, and only when he pulled out his guitar to play for College social functions did faculty and students realize he was an accomplished musician as well as a teacher and writer.

Emery grew up in a musical family—“The old farmhouse where I was raised was filled with any number of fiddles, potato-back mandolins, ukuleles, saxophones, a beautiful mahogany piano, and an old pump organ,” he once wrote—and began playing professionally at age 14. He played guitar and sang with the bluegrass band Northern Lights in the 1970s and 1980s and also wrote, played, and recorded with Grammy winners Peter Rowan, Del McCoury, and Alison Brown.

CGS Dean Linda Wells has announced plans to name the CGS Writing Center in Emery’s memory. The College will hold a dedication ceremony for the center during the annual CGS Distinguished Alumni Awards reception, schedule to be held Friday, October 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Katzenberg Center on the third floor of the CGS building.

7 Comments on In Memoriam: Robert W. Emery

  • Emery was my rhetoric teacher in 1995 and was the one who awoke the writer in me. Without him, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today and for that I am grateful and sad that someone that shaped my life can’t continue to do that with others.

  • As a student of Professor Emery in 1991-92 I have fond memories of his quiet wit and articulate prose. Rest in Peace Professor.

    James Shepard
    CGS ’94 SHA ’98

  • I would not be the writer I am today had it not been for the time and astute attention to detail Professor Emery provided.

    I am proud to have had him as a Professor and remember enjoying lengthy conversations with him in his office during my tenure at Boston University.

    He will be missed.

  • I always appreciated Prof. Emery as a teacher in the classroom, but the most lasting effect he had on me as a student was how he encouraged me to get out and experience everything the city of Boston had to offer. He opened my eyes to some of the beautiful gems within the city, and for that I will be forever greatful to him…a great teacher in all aspects and will surely be missed.

  • I am shocked and saddened to hear of Professor Emery’s passing. Professor Emery provided advice and insight into the art of writing. His rhetoric course allowed me to develop the writing skills needed for college and life. I had extensive conversations with Professor Emery in his office about essay topics, writing strategies, and life in general. Professor Emery was a good friend, mentor, and human being.

  • Bob Emery was a classmate and friend of mine at Penn–we both graduated as English majors in 1966. He played beautiful bluegrass and American roots music on his (dobro) guitar. We also performed together once in a campus coffee house: I read my poetry, and he accompanied me on guitar. The audience, I recall, was more appreciative of his guitar-playing than my poetry–and deservedly so. I also recall that Bob would disappear every spring semester for a week or so to attend Bluegrass festivals down South. In fact, it was through him that I was introduced to Bluegrass music, an interest that has held up for me over the decades. I fondly recall him singing and playing on his guitar the first bluegrass song I ever heard, and which is probably still my favorite: “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies.” In fact, I was listening to it this afternoon on Jango, and that made me think of Bob and google his name, to discover to my shock and grief that Bob passed away several years ago. What an untimely death for such an talented individual! In his student days, he radiated a joie de vivre and his love of American folk music. I will always fondly remember Bob and his guitar-playing, and I wish we had kept in touch after graduation.

  • Bob Emery was a star, operating at a high
    theatrical level, and those who he was with at “Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall” (before BU) are extremely lucky to see
    to what elegant heights a concerned and stylish human being can rise to,
    and achieve.

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