Remembering Roger Lee Deakins

By Louisa Brady

Retired NYU English professor Roger Lee Deakins passed away at the age of 82 on October 3, 2016. Deakins taught in the Department of English for 34 years, during which time he served as the Director of Undergraduate Studies. He was a Shakespearean scholar.

Deakins earned his undergraduate degree at University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana and his Ph.D. at Harvard University. He came to NYU in 1965, immediately following his completion of his graduate degree. A revered and beloved faculty member, Deakins was awarded the College’s Golden Dozen Award, an award distributed annually to twelve faculty members, and was the first recipient of NYU’s university-wide Distinguished Teaching Award in 1988. After his retirement, Deakins became an avid cyclist and worked for social justice.

In addition to receiving NYU’s highest teaching honors, Deakins also generously endowed a prize for undergraduate excellence. The prize, which the department named the Roger Lee Deakins Prize in English and American Literature, honors an outstanding scholar of English and American literature in the senior class. Andrew Schlager (Class of 2016) was awarded this prize last May.

Una Chaudhuri, a professor of English, Drama, and Environmental Studies at NYU, spoke fondly of Deakins and his mentorship in the early years of her career. She said, “Roger Deakins was the mentor (and in many way, the savior!) of my first years as an academic, in the NYU of the early 1980s, and I could not have asked for a kinder, saner, or wiser guide. He was an extraordinarily good and gentle soul, a widely beloved teacher, and a treasured friend and colleague.”

John Maynard, a professor of English and former chair of the department, also spoke fondly of his colleague. He wrote, “Roger Deakins was a much loved colleague who especially devoted his great talents to the care of our undergraduates. He served many years as Director of Undergraduate Studies. His warmth and deep caring for our students was at the center of our undergraduate program during much of his tenure. He was an expert on Elizabethan drama and a person of fine intellect and ready humor. His wife Alice was also a warm presence at NYU and in the Department.”

Professor Ernest Gilman called him a “sweet and generous man” and long-time colleague. “As his successor as Director of Undergraduate Studies,” Gilman wrote, “I knew I would have to work hard to emulate his dedication to the job and his concern for our students.  His undergraduate Shakespeare course was legendary, especially on those occasions when he would show up cross-gartered in yellow stockings like Malvolio in Twelfth Night.  But if I were casting director, he would be my Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Gilman added, “More than once I made the mistake of heading out on a bicycle tour with Roger, only to be left in the dust by a man whose energy and passion for everything he did was a very special gift to us all.”

On December 3, 2016, there will be a celebration of Deakins’s life at Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South), where he worked for social and civic justice after retirement. The event will be held at 10:00am. The event will begin in the church sanctuary at 10:00am and will be followed by a reception and further celebration in the assembly hall.