Luther T. Tyler—“Terry” to his friends and colleagues—died on July 24, after a long period of illness. Terry joined the English department in 1978, where he was a Pinanski Prize-winning teacher and a treasured colleague until failing health forced his retirement in 2017.
Although Terry struggled to keep teaching in his characteristically ambitious way—it was both comic and awe-inspiring to watch him carting a wheelbarrow’s worth of CDs and DVDs and books and maps into one of his classes on the history and culture of New Orleans—his poor health interrupted many semesters and finally ended his career abruptly. Those of us who knew and loved him can now remember with delight the many great years when he was fully himself and when he taught an extraordinary variety of courses to large and appreciative audiences of students over several generations.
In the early part of his career, Terry was called on often for his fine judgment and wit—to serve as a senior adviser to several other departments, to co-direct the First-Year Writing Program in its own first year, and more. Even after his health obliged him to curtail his other contributions, Terry was a devoted teacher and a memorably great talker, charismatically witty and original in his phrasing. It was always a special privilege to talk with him about any of the thousand subjects that engaged and delighted him—all of the canonical works of literature in which he had scholarly expertise, and the movies and popular music of which he had apparently encyclopedic knowledge and that he could bring to life in one well-chosen phrase after another. He was a great mimic, an appreciative connoisseur not just of works of art but of other people.
A partial list of the courses that Terry taught during his almost four decades at Wellesley will give some sense of the range of his interests and expertise: Romantic Poetry; Shakespeare; The History of the English Novel; Advanced Studies in Medieval Literature; Milton; Literary Criticism; The Age of Johnson; Burke and the Conservative Tradition; Southern Literature; The Culture of New Orleans; The Literature of Suffering; Gospel Music and Devotional Poetry; and Twentieth Century British Cinema.
Terry was a person of exceptional charm, wit, and learning, a person with a great capacity for friendship, and a person who suffered more than his share of pain and difficulty. His colleagues and students will relish the memory of his uniquely exhilarating company.
Timothy Peltason is Professor of English at Wellesley College.