Richard “Dick” Beckman Vowles ’38

Richard Beckman Vowles passed away on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. He was born in Fargo, N.D., on Oct. 5, 1917, the only child of Guy and Ella (Beckman) Vowles. The family moved to Davidson, N.C., in 1925, where Guy Vowles joined the faculty as a professor of German. Richard “Dick” Vowles graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry from Davidson College in 1938, and did post graduate work at the University of North Carolina 1938-1939, and the University of Stockholm 1939-1940. He received an M.A. in English from Yale in 1942. He worked as a chemical engineer in war industry from 1941-1944, served as an economic consultant for the War Department in 1944, and as a Vice Consul in Gothenburg, Sweden, from 1945-1946.

 After the war, he sought employment with the newly created CIA, but was rejected, a providential outcome for both parties. Dick got his Ph.D. in English from Yale in 1950, and had a long career as a college professor, initially of English, and later of Comparative Literature and Scandinavian Studies. He taught at Southwestern University in Memphis from 1948-1950, Queens University in NYC from 1950-1951, the University of Florida from 1951-1960, and at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from 1960-1985. He was a Fulbright fellow in Copenhagen 1955-1956, a Strindberg fellow in Stockholm in 1973, and a Norwegian government fellow in 1978.

 He served as a specialist in Scandinavia with the Department of State in 1963, and was a visiting professor at NYU, the University of Helsinki, and Stockholm University. He was a guest lecturer in Paris, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, and at a number of American universities. He ran a Scandinavian film festival in Door County, Wis., in 1975, and was master of ceremonies at the Santa Fe Scandinavian Film Festival in 1984. He loved an audience.

 Dick Vowles married Ellen Noah Hudson in 1942, and they had two children, Elizabeth, 633 Eugenia Ave. Madison WI, 53705, and Richard, who both survive him. Dick and Ellen divorced in 1969, but remained friends. After Ellen left Wisconsin for a position at Yale Press, they reunited to travel in Europe and visit their children. Ellen preceded him in death in 2006.

 In his long career as an educator, Dick Vowles introduced a number of Scandinavian authors to an American readership. He lectured on all things Swedish, with a special interest in the plays of August Strindberg and the films of Ingmar Bergman. He was a mentor to many students who remember his warmth and generosity. He and Ellen opened their home to visiting colleagues, and hosted some memorable parties for faculty and students.

 Dick had a sense of humor and whimsy that owed much to the Marx Brothers. He loved word play, song lyrics of his youth, and limericks, for which he had remarkable recall. He played the banjo, guitar, piano, and tin whistle, and had a fine singing voice. A lifelong jazz aficionado, he went on a number of jazz cruises, where he was able to mingle with the musicians he admired and pursue another passion, photography. He loved travel, and after retirement, an interest in Mayan archeology took him to Mexico and Central America.

 Dick retained his remarkable memory, hearing, sense of humor, and lucidity to the end of his 96 years. He never lost the ability to amuse, to entertain, or to exasperate.

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