Celebrated English professor ‘realized the good life’

Memorial service set for Saturday

Celebrated English professor 'realized the good life'

Giulia De Paoli, Channels Staff

One of the longest-serving teachers of the City College English Department, Professor Emeritus of English Dr. Charles R. Courtney, passed away in a battle against cancer, Jan. 23, in Sedona, Arizona. He was 91.

“Cheerful and warm-hearted to the end,” said his personal friend Jinny Webber, also Professor Emeritus from the City College English Department.

“He was a wonderful colleague, mentor and friend to me and to the rest of the department,” said Webber, who joined the faculty in 1969. “His personal charm and effusive spirits made him excellent company.”

A native of New Jersey, Courtney graduated from Tucson High School and Westmont College, where he taught English and French for three years before teaching it for five at Santa Barbara Junior High.

Besides his mastery of French, Courtney knew the basics of several other foreign languages, just one of many reasons which made him popular among City College international students, many of whom stayed in touch with him for years after his retirement.

Courtney held a Master’s degree and the Doctor of Philosophy degree in medieval English literature from the University of Arizona. His first association with City College was in 1957, when he served as President of the Instructors Association, and seven years as Chairman of the English Department. He also advised the City College Chapter of Alpha Gamma Sigma, a student honorary society.

Courtney initiated the first City College Study Abroad Program in Paris, and led other international programs with destinations to Switzerland, Italy, Japan and India. Because of his work in the field, he was the recipient of a Fulbright Grant for an exchange teaching position in Newry, County Down, and Northern Ireland.

In 1997 Courtney celebrated his marriage to Philip Thompson at Trinity Episcopal Church with 300 guests, including City College colleagues and his five children.

“His courage and openness helped develop understanding and acceptance among all those who knew him,” said Webber.

Courtney retired in 1983, still teaching part-time at City College until 2002, until he moved to Sedona with his partner to be closer to one of his daughters and her family.

Courtney devoted a great part of his life to City College where he constantly demonstrated an inspiring effort to emphasize the moral and spiritual values in contemporary culture and education, as he illustrated in the lecture he held as the first City College Faculty Lecturer in 1981: “Perspectives on Moral & Spiritual Values in Literature.”

“We must give attention to these values if we are to realize the good life – if we are to meet the need within us, individually and collectively, for right conduct, and for beauty,” Courtney lectured.

Colleagues recollect, besides Courtney’s delicious repertoire in cooking, serving in the Continental fashion and with many courses and china for each, the professor’s contagious and deep enthusiasm for literature, which emerged in every moment of his journey. He could quote Keats, Wordsworth and many others when they fit the occasion, Webber said.

“He loved British literature, particularly the romantic poets and the medieval period which was the focus of his doctoral dissertation,” colleagues said in the release sent by City College.

His partner Philip Thompson, his daughters Rosine, Roxane and Odette and sons Breton and Gavin, 14 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren, survive Courtney.

A memorial service will be held at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, in Sedona.