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Late professor honored by family, friends

Professor Canfield's niece, along with her daughter Colleen Prantil remember the life of the late UA professor J. Douglas Canfield.
By Jill Holt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 4, 2003

Students, faculty, administrators, former students, and friends filled the Modern Languages auditorium last night to celebrate the life and work of Regents' Professor J. Douglas Canfield, who passed away in July.

Music by Mozart, Canfield's favorite composer, played softly in the background as the large auditorium filled with family, friends, colleagues and students coming to share in the remembrance of his life, which took place at 4:30 p.m. in Modern Languages 350.

A recording of Canfield, an English professor, reciting his favorite poem, "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens, was played at the celebration, from which Canfield quoted that "death is the mother of beauty."

"We're calling it a celebration, because that's what (Canfield) and his family wanted," said Charles Tatum, dean of the College of Humanities. "Not a memorial, he did not want this to be a sad occasion although obviously there will be tears."

The service included remarks by President Peter Likins, Provost George Davis, former UA President Henry Koffler and English department Head Larry Evers. Once the administrators finished speaking, person after person walked up to the microphone to share their memories of Canfield.

Douglas Canfield

Canfield died on July 3 at the age of 63, following a two-year battle with idiopathic-pulmonary fibrosis, an inflammatory disease that causes scarring of the lungs. The scarring builds up until the lungs are no longer able to function.

Canfield taught five days a week up until a few months before his death, even though his illness had rendered him wheelchair-bound and dependent on an oxygen tank.

"He contributed enormous creative energy and vision and was one of our most devoted and treasured teachers," Tatum said. "He was a model to all of us; I like to remember him as an intrepid warrior."

Canfield came to UA's English department in 1974 and became Regents Professor in 1994. He told the Arizona Daily Wildcat in February that if his health stabilized, he would like to continue teaching until he was 70.

"I love teaching," he said. "It's in my blood."

Davis spoke of how, from his office window, he used to watch Canfield walk up the stairs in the parking garage at the end of the day. Canfield could only climb a few steps before having to take a moment to rest, but he never requested a handicapped parking space.

"I was marveled but not surprised," said Davis. "He committed himself to his passions he did heroic acts."

Evers began working with Canfield in 1974, when they shared a small office. "It was a tremendous adventure," Evers said. "I was an inexperienced young professor, but I was mentored very well by Doug."

Evers said Canfield's passion and enthusiasm for teaching was an inspiration. "I'm thankful I had a front row seat," he said.

Students also took the chance to talk about how Canfield impacted their lives.

"He was very impressive," said Brian Gruters, a senior majoring in Spanish, who took one course with Canfield last fall. "He was one of the best if not the best teacher I've had."

Gruters said Canfield helped give him the idea for a research project about slavery of Native Americans in the Southwest during Spanish colonial times, and a letter of recommendation written by Canfield helped Gruters win a grant to pursue his project.

"He really had a good perspective on the Southwest area," Gruters said.

Canfield grew up in the Washington D.C. area, where he graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 1959 from Archbishop John Carrol High School. He earned his bachelor's degree with magna cum laude honors in 1963 from the University of Notre Dame. He also obtained master's degrees from both Yale University in 1964 and John Hopkins University in 1966 before earning his Ph.D. in 1969 from the University of Florida. He was a professor at UCLA before arriving at the UA.

He received many awards and fellowships during his 29 years of teaching at the UA. Most recently he received the 2001 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. His teaching awards also include 1993 CASE Arizona Professor of the Year.

In a KUAT segment, which aired last spring, he said his most treasured award was the Five-Star Faculty Award for Teaching, given to him in 1984 by his students.

He also served as chairman of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education from 1991-92, during which time he helped change the Tier 1 requirements for UA students.

He published 11 books about Restoration and early eighteenth-century British Literature, and comparative literature and culture of the Southwest. He also wrote two books of poetry.

Canfield was also a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a national referee for American Youth Soccer Organization.

He is survived by his wife, Pamela; three sons, Robert, Bret and Colin; and four siblings, Austin of Maryland, Maureen Lynch of Kansas, Gertrude Cavanaugh of Maryland, and Richard of Florida.

"He was a gift to all of us," Likins said.

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