Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community on May 21, 2024. – Ed.

Dear colleagues,

I write to share the news that Tom Heacox, Professor of English, Emeritus, passed away on April 4 in Williamsburg.

Professor Heacox earned a B.A. from Penn State in 1965, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University in 1967, and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1975, writing on E.M. Forster under the tutelage of J. Hillis Miller. He spent a year teaching German at the Champlain School in Chatham, Massachusetts, before joining the faculty of William & Mary in 1970, first as an instructor, then as Assistant Professor (1973) and Associate Professor (1982). His academic career also took him to Comenius University in Bratislava as a Fulbright lecturer and to the Universities of Leiden and Aberdeen as a visiting lecturer. He retired from William & Mary in 2009.

Prof. Heacox is remembered by colleagues as a quick-witted polymath whose varied eruditions elude easy characterization. He was both deeply and breezily conversant in the oeuvre of Shakespeare, Richard Strauss, Oscar Wilde, Constantine Cavafy, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, Willa Cather, and Vladimir Nabokov, to name just a few. He was also a talented poet in his own right.

At William & Mary, Prof. Heacox taught courses in literary history, criticism, and critical theory, as well as a number of creative writing offerings. Informed by philosophy and aesthetics, he taught authors from Shakespeare to Proust and literary theory from Plato to Michel Foucault, most frequently focusing on Decadence and Modernism in the British Isles, America, and Europe. Literary theory entered and enlivened the department’s curriculum through his efforts.

Beyond the English department, Prof. Heacox bolstered the Literary and Cultural Studies program and interdisciplinary honors. He was a much sought-after advisor for honors theses ranging from Sade and Walt Whitman to D.H. Lawrence, James Baldwin, and Pier Paolo Pasolini. For many years he hosted the department’s annual writers’ festival and administered the Writer in Residence program. He inaugurated the study abroad program in Galway, Ireland, and was a mainstay of the University of Cambridge summer program. For his manifold and multifaceted contributions to teaching and the life of the mind at William & Mary, he was honored in 2000 with the Phi Beta Kappa Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2009 with the Thomas Graves Award for sustained excellence in teaching.

Prof. Heacox was an exceptional mentor and all-around presence. One of his lasting contributions to William & Mary’s English Department is his creation of a course originally entitled “Literature and the Formation of Homosexuality,” one of the earliest such courses at William & Mary. His class enshrined the queer canon with such focal points as Oscar Wilde, E. M. Forster, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, and Christopher Isherwood. LGBTQ students and their allies flocked to the course for both its content and its promise of validation and visibility. The persistence of the course testifies to what one colleague movingly recorded as its “massive importance to whole generations of students whose life here was made safer and more joyous because of its existence.”

Friends, colleagues, and former students remember his sonorous voice, inimitable quips, and “profound gift for friendship”; his having been “terrifically engaged with” and “so interested in and respectful of their ideas, observations, and perspectives”; and as one of the English department’s “phenomenal” and “legendary teachers.” He is fondly remembered and much missed.

A celebration of Prof. Heacox’s life will take place in Wren Chapel on May 31 at 2 pm, followed by an informal social gathering at 4 pm in the “breezeway” adjacent to the Gabriel Archer Tavern at the Williamsburg Winery.