Trent University Mourns the Passing of Former University President and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Donald Theall

Friday, May 16, 2008, Peterborough

The Trent University community is saddened to learn of the passing of former Trent University president and vice-chancellor Dr. Donald Theall.

Following a brief illness, Dr. Theall died at the Peterborough Regional Health Centre on Wednesday, May 14, 2008.

“I wish to express my heartfelt sympathies to the family of Dr. Theall,” said Bonnie Patterson, president and vice-chancellor of Trent University. “The loss of a former university president is a profound one, especially for an institution as young as Trent University, where so many fondly remember Donald Theall’s years here. Certainly, all of us benefit from his legacy as a leader and as an academic. He will be missed here at Trent and at the many institutions that he has influenced through his admirable administrative and academic work.”

"Dr. Theall's own passions and pursuits were so much a reflection of the institution he led for seven years," added Reid Morden, chair of Trent University's Board of Governors. "As a leader whose academic credentials were well-known in humanities circles internationally, he epitomized the benefits of a well-rounded liberal arts education. An effective and respected leader for Trent, he will be missed by many."

Dr. Theall was born in Mount Vernon, New York. He earned his B.A. at Yale University in 1950, and his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Toronto in 1951 and 1954. It was at the University of Toronto where he began his long and distinguished career in the university sector, rising through the ranks from lecturer to professor from 1953 to 1965.

During his final year at U of T, Dr. Theall was also chair of the combined Departments of English. In 1962, he edited and annotated selected poems of Pope for the last print edition of Representative Poetry.

After becoming chairman and Molson professor with the Department of English at McGill University from 1966 to 1973, and then founding director and Molson professor with the graduate program in communications, from 1974 to 1980, Dr. Theall joined Trent University as president and vice-chancellor from 1980 to 1987. He stayed on at Trent as a professor until his retirement in 1994, when he was granted the title of professor emeritus.

During his academic career, Dr. Theall also served on the Board of Directors with the International Communication Association (1979-81), was founding president of the Canadian Communication Association (1978-80), acted as first cultural exchange professor for Canada to the People's Republic of China (1974), and served as co-director of the National Film Board of Canada/McGill University Summer School on Media (1967-71).

Dr. Theall was also well-known for his published works, which focused on a wide variety of topics, including: communication theory; Marshall McLuhan; poetic theory; science fiction; film theory; virtual reality; cyberspace; and the works of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Alexander Pope, and Harold Innis. He was also the author of several books, including: The Virtual Marshall McLuhan, James Joyce's Techno-Poetics, and Beyond the Word: Reconstructing Sense in the Joyce Era of Technology, Culture, and Communication. In 1975, he guest-edited a special McLuhan issue of the Canadian Journal of Communications with G. J. Robinson and published The Medium is the Rear View Mirror: Understanding McLuhan in 1971.

Dr. Theall was also often described as a “pioneer in computing in the humanities”, and made an extraordinary contribution to literature on-line with his web version of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and Ulysses. As a tribute to his contributions to education over the years, Dr. Theall was presented with a Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa from the University of St. Michael’s College in 2006.

Dr. Theall is survived by his wife Joan Ada Benedict and their six children: Thomas, Margaret Rose, John, Harold, Lawrence, and Michael.

In honour of Dr. Theall’s service and leadership to Trent University, the flag atop the Bata Library has been lowered to the half-staff position.

Notes of condolence and sympathy are being received at the President's Office in the Bata Library, at Trent University's Peterborough campus.