Tuesday, December 30, 2014

From Susan Gardner

From: Susan Gardner (to Deje)

Dear Deje,
                  I’m finding it very hard to take in Jim’s death, and if I feel that way, you and your family must feel a hundred fold more sadness. You are a strong and gracious woman, whom I admire as much as I admired Jim. I admired your marriage.

                  I’ve been lost in thought as I recall my memories of him. He was one of the first colleagues to welcome me in 1990, and our relationship was truly collegial as we both took interest in the other’s work: children’s literature, British literature, feminist literature, and, towards the end, nature writing. I loved his first memoir, and encouraged him to follow it up. We discussed if he wanted to write about Pilot Mountain, and I visited one of his classes to discuss American Indian knowledge of nature and landscape. (Jeff Meyer also spoke, about Chinese nature concepts). I also remember his solo singing and piano playing. We also discussed retirement, and his, I know, would have been fulfilling and enriching.

                  When my mother died in Jan. 2012 from injuries in a house fire, I was swamped with condolences, a flood of cards with butterflies, flowers, beautiful sunsets and so on. I was overwhelmed by people’s concern, which helped me to “get through it.” But I don’t think anything can really mend a broken heart, just to ease it. Even after three years of being motherless, I still occasionally want to call or email her about books, our mutual passion.

                  What a very sad holiday season this must have been for you. But I also admire your courage, and I will never forget him.

From: Jessica R. M. Schley

From: Jessica R. M. Schley (jschley@novanthealth.org)

Dr. McGavran was a kindred spirit. He was a precious man and certainly honest. He sat me down when I was in grad school and in the sweetest way possible, told me: "Jessica, you aren't an academic, but you're certainly a creative writer." I was still so bent on getting a PhD, and it would be years before I let go of that dream and focused more intently on my writing. I took three classes with him over the course of my undergrad / graduate days at UNCC, and one was a directed reading on Jane Austen. You gotta love a man who loved Lizzie Bennett as much as he did.

I wrote a screenplay for him, a modern adaption of Sense and Sensibility. Maybe other teachers would have scoffed at the fact that I set it in West Virginia. Dr. McGavran loved it. He would often say: "Others might think you're ditzy Jessica, but I just think your brilliant." I loved this though I never considered myself ditzy. Maybe it was because I was always trying to write about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in his Romantic Era Literature class. In any case, for a man like him to say something like that to me, well, it gave me so much confidence to continue working on my writing.

Just a few months back he was kind enough on his summer vacation to look at some chapters of something I've been working on. His feedback was honest and helpful. He always made time to meet, even just to sign his book for me that I read and cried through because it was such a touching reflection of his childhood and of losing his parents which I can relate to. He was not afraid of being a sensitive man. He often cried in class when he was reciting certain lines of literature. The first time this happened it was so difficult for me, someone very use to keeping my emotions tightly wound up and hidden. But then I learned to really admire him for his ability to feel his emotions so openly, especially in relation to the written word which has always been and always will be so important to me. Dr. McGavran I love you so and I'll miss you. You encouraged a girl from West Virginia to own my experiences and use them as a means to find language that would help all of it make sense. I can't wait to continue our conversations of Charlotte Smith, Wordsworth, and Austen when I am in heaven someday.

Jessica R. M. Schley

Monday, December 29, 2014

From Jay Jacoby

From: Jay Jacoby (jbjacoby@uncc.edu)

My wife, Marlene, and I were stunned when Sandy Govan called us on December 21 to tell us of Jim's sudden and unexpected passing.  We are still stunned.

Having completed a 27 year stint at UNCC in 2005 and then retiring to Asheville, we have not maintained very close contact with many of my former colleagues.  But Jim and Deje were among those with whom we did stay in touch, and we saw them whenever they visited the mountains.  Jim and I did not always share the same literary sensibilities (when I first proposed a course in Jewish-American literature he wanted to know if we should also offer a course in Episcopalian-American lit) or dispositions (as so many of you have pointed out, Jim was perennially cheerful while I often harbored a much darker, more ironic outlook).  I can say that Jim was among the best of my mentors at UNCC--helping with my adjustment to students who were quite different from those I encountered in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.  I envied his boundless enthusiasm, generous goodwill, and optimism.  He was a great colleague and friend, whether it came to teaching (he certainly made the 3-year-long NEH Literature Project a bright spot for me and other colleagues), committee work, or faculty governance and administration (Jim and I spent a few years together in the Rowe building as interim chairs of the Art and Dance/Theatre departments).

One of my last memories of Jim was a dinner we had together a few years ago at a French restaurant in Asheville prior to his giving a reading at Malaprop's Bookstore.  I had finally begun to feel comfortable in my retirement, being liberated from the paper load, endless meetings, and campus politics.  Though five years younger than Jim, there I was singing the praises of an unencumbered retired lifestyle.  Jim responded by saying that he just couldn't imagine for himself a life outside of academia.  Jim spoke passionately and energetically  about all that he was doing (his memoir had recently been published/he was getting ready to teach a new course in creative non-fiction) and he said that he had not given a thought to retirement.  Somehow, I regret that Jim didn't get an opportunity to try out retirement.  But I don't think that Jim would share this regret.  And I envy him all the more for this.  Jim will be deeply missed.

Jay Jacoby, UNCC English faculty member from 1978-2005.        

Sunday, December 28, 2014

From: Christina Milliner (née Renee):

Transferring to UNC Charlotte was a great experience for me. Especially coming from a small community college. I was excited to be studying English and looked forward to all the great literature I would read and learn about in UNCC's English Department. During my  2 1/2 years at UNCC, I had the pleasure of taking two English classes with Dr. McGavran. One was English 2402 and the other English 4120 (for both classes I still have my final papers). 

In these classes, I learned a lot from Dr. McGavran and it was his courses that introduced me to Mary Wollstonecraft. I always enjoyed class with Dr. McGavran because he was such a lovely person with a passionate personality. His love for literature and the great authors showed in his teachings. Dr. McGavran was also one of the first professors I gave my short story cycle to read. His insightful feedback and encouragement is what helped pushed me to continue writing these stories. I was truly hurt to hear of his passing and give my deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the UNCC Family.  He was one of my favorite professors at UNC Charlotte and will be missed.

Friday, December 26, 2014

From:  Emily Williams

Well, everyone. I've had a shock this evening.
I was reading today's Observer late before heading to bed after a day of much festivities and toing and froing...when I came across the obituary for Dr. James McGavaran, my cherished British Lit professor from Grad school (UNCC). 
I had no idea he had passed away this past Saturday at the age of 73 from what was reported to be a stroke. This was the first I had heard of it.

I was thinking about him just today; remembering taking his course on Nature and early 19th century poetry (Wordsworth...always Wordsworth). I was remembering his words and his comments about the papers I wrote about a person's connection to place, landscape and memory, relating it all back to literature and the authors we were reading. 

He was a man who cried at the drop of a hat...over poetry...or anything sentimental. He was one of the kindest men I had ever met. We all shared a lot of laughter in that class; a lot of heartfelt discussions. Of course, on the first day of the course, I remember one of the assignments was to think about a place in our past (childhood, etc.) and write about how it "made us feel" and this included drawing a picture of it. At first, I thought "You have GOT to be kidding me..." but eventually after I became immersed in the course, I fell in love with McGavaran's teaching style. I remember going to a nature preserve (for the life of me, I cannot remember which one) somewhere in the Charlotte area for a class field trip of sorts. All part of McGavran's angle on learning about nature and the Romantics. It was a memory I'll hold on to.

I understand that life is unpredictable (oh my, have I learned that lesson well), but this was so unexpected. You always expect your professors to live on forever. I can only imagine what his family must be going through, losing their father, husband and grandfather a week before Christmas. 
I'll say more on this later. For now, thank you, Dr. McGavran. You were a good man. I won't forget you. 

From: Anita Moss [awmoss@uncc.edu]

The recent reminiscences about our dear Jim have comforted me in the last few days as I have tried to comprehend the enormity of this loss to Jim's family, to our English Department, to his many friends, and especially to our students.  

Several mutual students have contacted me grief-stricken.  Some of you may know that in August, 1973, Jim, Connie Rothwell, and I moved into Denny 201.  The University was growing dramatically, and office space was scarce, and what a delightful circumstance that was.  We were young and idealistic, and we loved our work.  We also had so much fun, mostly due to Jim's droll mimicry and sense of the absurd.  I hope that many of you have experienced Jim's amazingly accurate impersonation of Queen Elizabeth II.  We were known to compose naughty limericks at the expense of some of our senior colleagues.  

Jim was truly a musical being, and he loved the popular music of his youth (and mine).  I especially enjoyed his versions of doo-wop tunes.  He once performed in 'Fifties attire before more than a hundred CMS teachers "Going to the Chapel of Love."  I can picture that performance vividly. 

Jim McGavran lit up every room that he entered and brought life and joy to all fortunate enough to know him.  He was my cherished friend and colleague for forty-one years--not nearly enough. He often greeted me this way:  "Hail to thee, Blithe Spirit, bright sprite of the whirling room."  The "Whirling Room" was Jim's name for Denny 201.  And how hard it is to bid that precious blithe spirit, Jim, a final farewell.  We shall miss his voice and presence painfully in the months to come.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From: Jim Gillette [jimgbarth@yahoo.com]

As some faculty will recall, I was the furthest thing from the typical undergraduate student. Having thrown aside nuclear engineering to discover what I was supposed to do with myself and most importantly who I might actually enjoy being for whatever life I might create.

Jim M. and I saw each other around the department for my first two years as a dual major (English/Theatre). But in my third and final year at UNCC, Jim and I became better acquainted during the production of Strider wherein I played the title role and he played the accordion in the pit band. It was a good production and I was singled out for special praise in the reviews. After the show run was over, Jim and were talking about doing a production of Murray Schisgal's The Tiger that I would direct and he would star in; not a frequent occurrence to have an undergrad directing a tenured professor, but I thought nothing of it at the time. While discussing the show he happened to ask "You are not, by any chance related to Bob Barth the Romantic poetry scholar are you?" my reply almost knocked him over: "You mean Uncle Bob?"  It turned out that he had met my uncle, later the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Boston College, at the annual Wordsworth conference in the UK. 

So it turned out that Jim and I would connect over Coleridge and Christian Doctrine too. 

I moved on to grad school and then Hollywood. But on my too infrequent visits back to Charlotte, Jim was always on my agenda. Indeed after my father passed away in 1998, I gave Jim my Dad's inscribed copies of Uncle Bob's books. He protested, but I already had my own well-thumbed copies and really could not think of ANYONE who would appreciate them more than Jim.

As an aside, I'm just about the only one in the family who could manage to get through Uncle Bob's books and we were well known for our ability to clear a room at a reunion by my asking quite innocently "So have you had a chance to get through "Shakespeare's Use of Dream and Vision" that I gave you." My family is full of highly accomplished lawyers, doctors, MBA sorts, but they would run screaming holding their hands over their ears when we started in on a discussion of Wordsworth's preface to Lyrical Ballads in 1800. 

In 2003 I was going through a divorce and doing a bit of a walkabout around the country. I let Jim know I was coming through Charlotte. He was teaching a class on Frankenstein at the time and asked if I wanted to give a guest lecture. It was just like him to offer me exactly the sort of therapy I needed. I prepared a lecture on film techniques used to create character alienation. He asked me to include a clip from Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein if I could. Me? I who used Springtime for Hitler in Boyd Davis' class once? Of course I can do that for you Jim!

So now I find myself living in Las Vegas in a house originally owned by Shecky Greene (look him up youngsters) and I mourn at Christmastime the passing of a seminal figure in my education and an integral support in the architecture that is my structure of lifetime friendships. He will always be there, buttressing my understanding and compassion.

;-Jim Gillette (Barth) UNCC class of 1986

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From:  Meg Morgan

Colleagues talk about Jim's warmth as evidenced by the fact that he often cried when things got emotional.  However, I could not always tell if he was crying because he was happy or because he was sad or distressed.  As chair of the Bank of America Teaching Awards Committee, he announced the recipient of the award at the Founders hall ceremony.  In 2008, when I was one of the nominees, Jim was the one who announced the recipient of the award.

As soon as he got to the microphone he started to cry.  And I thought:  Is he crying because I received the award or because I did not?  While it took only  a few seconds to actually announce the recipient, in those seconds my mind was going back and forth, stimulated by Jim's emotional behavior. And in the next few seconds, I was one with him in tears.

That moment epitomizes Jim McGavran for me--a man who was an intellectual, a leader, an extraordinary member of this University community, but also a man who felt things deeply and was not afraid to show those feelings.

I will miss him terribly.

From: Mary-Elizabeth "Beth" Greene

Dr. McGavran was one of the first professors I had a class with when I transferred to UNC Charlotte.  I first took British Literature II with him, followed by Creative Nonfiction and, finally, Wordsworth and Charlotte Smith as a new graduate student this past semester.  It saddens me beyond words to know that I won’t be able to spend another semester with him.

Dr. McG was a fantastic person who always made his students laugh at least three times per class period.  It was beyond obvious how much he cared about the writers he was introducing us to, and his enthusiasm was infectious.

I was honored to be awarded the Margaret B Bryan Award for Undergraduate Excellence by Dr. McG just before graduating and moving into the graduate program.  I've looked up to him from my first semester and was so excited for my parents and brother to meet the professor that I'd talked so much about, even though he made me cry with his speech.

Today, when I saw his memorial on the English Department website, I was stunned.  I thought that it had to be wrong, that I was just emailing with him about an article last week, had seen him the week before.  I just can't accurately express just how devastating his loss is or how unreal it seems.
For his wife, children, and siblings about whom he always spoke so fondly, my sincerest condolences.  Please know that your Jim touched many lives and was a wonderful influence on so many students.  I'm sure that we will all carry him with us on our future journeys.

Mary-Elizabeth “Beth" Greene

Monday, December 22, 2014

From: Professor Mark West

In Honor of Jim McGavran — For forty-one years, Jim McGavran taught in the Department of English at UNC Charlotte, but sadly his long career came to an end with his unexpected death from a massive stroke on December 20, 2014.  However, his presence will be felt in the English Department and the broader UNC Charlotte community for many years to come.

Dr. James Holt McGavran, Jr., as he was known to those who knew him through his published scholarship, joined the English Department in the fall of 1973, shortly after completing his PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Prior to beginning his doctoral work, he had received a BA from the College of Wooster in 1963 and an MA from Columbia University in 1965.    

Throughout his teaching career at UNC Charlotte, Jim taught a wide variety of courses in British literature, but he especially enjoyed teaching courses on the English Romantics.  Over the years, Jim also developed new courses.  Early in his career, he took an interest in the relationship between literature and film.  He and a colleague team-taught one of the department's first courses in the area of film studies.  He also created an interdisciplinary graduate seminar titled "The Idea of Nature."  In recent years, he delved into the field of creative nonfiction, and he taught several courses on this topic.  From the very beginning of his career, his students and colleagues recognized Jim's extraordinary dedication to teaching.  His gifts as a teacher resulted in many awards and recognitions, including the Bank of America Teaching Excellence Award in 2006 and the UNC Board of Governors Teaching Excellence Award in 2007.

In addition to being a gifted teacher, Jim achieved success as a scholar.  He published numerous articles on the English Romantics.  He developed a particular interest on the relationship between the Romantic Movement and children's literature, and he edited three important collections on this topic:  Literature and the Child:  Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations (University of Iowa Press, 1999); Romanticism and Children's Literature in Nineteenth-Century England (University of Georgia Press, 1991); and Time of Beauty, Time of Fear:  The Romantic Legacy in the Literature of Childhood (University of Iowa Press, 2012).  Jim's interest in creative nonfiction is reflected in the publication of his memoir, In the Shadow of the Bear:  A Michigan Memoir (Michigan State University Press, 2010).

Throughout his career at UNC Charlotte, Jim took seriously his role as a University citizen.  He played a variety of leadership roles in the English Department including a term as the English Graduate Coordinator, but he also performed important service roles beyond the English Department.  He served as the Faculty President in 1987-1988, and he held the position of Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1988 through 1993.  He also served as the Interim Chair of the Department of Dance and Theatre from 2000 through 2002.

A listing of Jim's degrees, awards, publications, and positions, although impressive, does not capture Jim's passions.   In some ways, the pictures taped to his office door better reflect the real Jim than does a listing of his accomplishments.  In keeping with Jim's playful approach to life, there is a picture of Kermit the Frog in the middle of the door.  Jim's wry sense of humor is reflected in the Doonsebury cartoon taped next to Kermit.  Surrounding Kermit are beautiful images of flowers and other scenes from nature, which is fitting given Jim's passion for the natural world.  At the top of the door there is a photograph of a man climbing a cliff.  Upon close inspection, one realizes that the man in the photograph is Jim.  As his door proclaims, Jim took joy in life, embraced nature, and was always ready to climb the next cliff, for he knew that when he reached the top he would be able to see for miles around.  I trust that he is enjoying the view.

Sincerely yours,

Mark I. West, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Department Chair