Spirit and Zeal
Rafael Alan Pollock—a professor and administrator at Saint Mary’s for nearly 50 years—loved poetry, theater, science, mathematics, astronomy and languages. He spoke Greek, Latin, Middle English, German, Italian and French, and in recent years had developed an interest in Mandarin. He played an important role in establishing two signature Saint Mary’s programs—Collegiate Seminar and January Term—and served as chair of the English Department and Integral Studies Program.
Pollock received his degrees, bachelor’s through doctorate, from Yale University. He taught English literature at Yale, the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, where he served for a time as academic vice president and dean.
He was known for his keen memory, able to quote passages at length from the Great Books, and also instilling in his students the practice, which they demonstrated for him years later when visiting campus.
“I saw him meeting a group of his former students from his earliest days at the College,” said his colleague, Michael Riley, chair of the Classical Languages Department and professor in the Integral Program. “None of them were by any professional reckoning even remotely academics; one was a San Francisco Irish cop, for instance. And they all of them from memory could still recite for him the opening lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, which he had had them memorize as their English professor half a century ago.”
Pollock’s enthusiasm for great literature was matched by his zeal for other subjects and the interrelatedness of them all—observational astronomy, ornithology, tide pool invertebrate biology, Chinese poetry, and Native American mythology and archaeology.
“It may have seemed strange to some that my father would move so easily from studying Chaucer, poetry and Old English to thinking about science, ancient civilizations and navigating by the stars,” said Pollock’s son, David, in his toast at his father’s memorial service on Feb. 23, 2014. “But I think he saw these pursuits as different sides of the same thing, different ways for people to try to make sense of their wonder and their place in the universe.”
Pollock, who was born on March 6, 1928, died on Jan. 27, 2014. Generations of students will remember and miss him.