Santa Clara University

Santa Clara Magazine

Richard Osberg Memoriam

“A Man for All Seasons”

Richard Osberg
Photo: Charles Barry 
In the quarter of a century he was a part of the Santa Clara community, Professor of English Richard Osberg earned the respect of colleagues and students alike with his extraordinary breadth of knowledge and commitment to teaching. Until his untimely passing on Oct. 17 from brain cancer, he never ceased to be what many of his friends and colleagues describe as “a man for all seasons.” Mr. Osberg, as he was known to his students, leaves behind an exemplary legacy of service and scholarship.

“I’ve heard some say that ‘Those who cannot do, teach,’” said Martin Blaker ’86, one of the many students Osberg taught. “I prefer to say, ‘Those who can give relentlessly, teach.’ Dick Osberg gave relentlessly.”

Dick Osberg arrived at Santa Clara in 1982. He grew up on the East Coast and graduated with honors in English from Dartmouth College in 1969, winning the poetry prize from the Academy of American Poets the same year, and going on to earn his Ph.D. in Middle English literature from Claremont Graduate School in 1974. His enthusiasm for the subject was contagious; his affable, engaging style made works like The Canterbury Tales opportunities for tremendous discovery.

“Almost all of Dick’s former students revel in the fact that they can still recite the Prologue from The Canterbury Tales—and in Middle English, of course,” said Blaker. “They can do this for years, and in some cases even decades, after taking his Chaucer class.”

Simone Billings, senior lecturer in English and assistant to the president, described Osberg as a teaching scholar before the term was fashionable. “Dick was a thinker,” she said, “willing to show that he was thinking, willing to share that process with his students, with his colleagues.”

Osberg published two books, dozens of reviews, encyclopedia entries, and scholarly essays in prestigious academic journals, gaining international recognition as a prominent Medievalist. He served as chair of the English department for six years, chair of the University Honors Program, Director of Fellowships, and helped form the Honors Advisory Council in 2006. In 1999 he was recognized with the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching, Scholarship, and Service.

“In all his manifold roles of leadership, Dick was never satisfied with the status quo and sought ways to strengthen the programs for which he was responsible,” said history professor and honors faculty member Timothy O’Keefe. “As a hiker and a sailor, he had a good inner compass and he knew how to steer through choppy waters without losing his sense of direction or his aplomb. And throughout his quarter century at Santa Clara he was guided by an unswerving loyalty to the University and a concern for its academic well-being.”

Osberg was also an avid sportsman who, in addition to sailing and hiking, enjoyed fishing, tennis (his drop shot was the stuff of legend among his friends), and, just recently, golf. He loved spending evenings sailboat racing on the Santa Cruz bay. While he and his fellow sailors might not have come in first, they certainly always finished the course. He was also a connoisseur of fine wine and an accomplished woodworker.

“Dick was a true craftsman,” said Alan T. Gaylord, Henry Winkley Professor of Anglo Saxon and English literature at Dartmouth College, who taught Osberg as a student and counted him as a longtime friend and colleague. “He was a strong worker, with a sensitive hand, a sharp eye, a serious dedication, and a sense of humor. As a researcher he was a bulldog: He dug deep and would never let go of what he dug up until it all made sense, or as one might say, until it was both beautiful and useful.”

Sally Osberg, his wife of 38 years, remembers him also as a devoted husband, poet, and sportsman. As President Paul Locatelli, S.J. noted in his eulogy, “Sally and Dick’s love began in poetry, and poetry continued to mark its course. Each year on or around February 14th, Dick penned a sonnet or verse for his valentine.” Some poems were tender and romantic, others witty and playful—the last was “The sonnet does its lowly duty”—but all attest to a love affair that lasted a lifetime. In addition to his wife, Dick is survived by his parents, June and Calvin Osberg; his sisters, Nancy Durocher and Martha Clark; as well as his daughter, Jerusha, her husband, Austin, and his baby grandson, Curtis.

A memorial service was held for Dick Osberg on Nov. 28 in the Mission Church. Cards can be sent to Sally Osberg, c/o English Department, Santa Clara University, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95050. In lieu of flowers, his family requests that contributions be sent to the American Cancer Society, to Loaves and Fishes, or to a charity meaningful to you.

—Emily Elrod ’05

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