Professor of English Emeritus George Bahlke Dies
Taught for More than Three Decades
By Mike Debraggio, Executive Director of Communications
February 1, 2011
President Joan Hinde Stewart announced the passing of Professor of English Emeritus George Bahlke in an e-mail to the campus community on Feb. 1:
"Professor of English Emeritus George Bahlke died on Feb. 1 of complications from pneumonia. He was 76 and, although retired, was a frequent presence on campus.
"Bahlke joined the Kirkland College faculty in 1969 and was a beloved professor on College Hill for more than three decades. He retired in 2002 but continued to teach, most recently in the fall of 2006. Bahlke’s field was 20th- century British and Irish literature, in particular the writings of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster. He held bachelor’s degrees from the University of Chicago and Swarthmore College, a master’s degree from Chicago and a Ph.D. from Yale. The George Bahlke Faculty Travel Prize was established in George’s honor by his wife, family and friends when he retired.
“George was warm and caring. He created an engaging and intellectually challenging environment in his classroom. In 1992, in recognition of the esteem in which he was held by his students, he was named the inaugural recipient of the Class of 1962 Teaching Award. George’s response, upon learning of the honor, revealed a lot about him as a teacher, a person and a member of our community: ‘In accepting this award,’ he wrote, ‘I know I am also accepting it on behalf of the alumnae and alumni of Kirkland and Hamilton College, the administrators of the college, the staff and faculty, and the students[,] because we are all involved in a common effort to seek what truths can be rationally known as a part of helping others and ourselves to a more profound awareness of our common humanity.’”
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, those wishing may donate to the George Bahlke Travel Fund. Every member of the English department faculty honored their late colleague with a contribution to this fund, established by Bahlke’s wife Felicity Colby and his family and friends, upon the occasion of his retirement from Hamilton. The fund provides support for “... faculty travel for scholarly purposes, as it relates to the study and teaching of the Humanities at Hamilton College.”
According to English department chair Onno Oerlemans, “We all thought it would be nice to do something to honor George, and the idea of contributing to the travel fund in his name seemed like a great idea.”
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, April 2, at 3 p.m. in St. James Episcopal Church in Clinton, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
Postscript: On Thursday, May 26, Felicity Colby, George's wife, died peacefully after a long illness. She was the daughter of Professor of German Thomas E. Colby '42.
Reflections on George Bahlke
George Bahlke was my advisor and friend. He taught me in two classes, came to dinner at my parents' house in 1995 when he was out in the Hamptons, and generally undertook the forlorn hope of mentoring me . If there's a funeral or memorial service, I'd really like to go. My deepest sympathies to his family.
I have such fond memories of George and my freshman year
seminar "Development of Self in Fiction." I was already familiar with
Virginia Woolf, but George brought new insights and a particular
emphasis to stream of consciousness prose and the Bloomsbury Groups.
We also studied D.H. Lawrence. My mother saved all my paperbacks and
recently shipped them to me here in California. I think of George
every time I wipe the dust off and sort through one of these wonderful
I wasn't one of Professor Bahlke's students, but rather one
of his fellow classmates. For the past two years I have been in Latin
classes with him. He insisted on the first day of Latin class that we
call him George instead of Professor. He always had something
interesting to tell whether it was presenting a comparison of Medieval
Latin to Old English or just giving his critique of the Cloudy with a
Chance of Meatballs before class started. George was just another
classmate to me, a very mature and wise classmate. We would chat about
the news on campus and his latest travels before class and struggled
over grammar in our translations together. Latin class is not the same
I spent a delightful January Winter Study with Prof. Bahlke,
reading E.M. Forster's works. It was a tremendous way to pass a few
snowy weeks on the Hill! I treasure these memories of my freshman year
at Kirkland. Rest in Peace, Prof. Bahlke.
Ruth Kreischer Torde K'75
George was a welcome member of my Latin poetry class this semester, and he was in class only last Thursday--speaking his mind, as always. He was a real presence in class, and the students and I will miss him terribly. I admire him for his devotion to learning, which lasted right to end of his life.
Carl A. Rubino
George frequently audited our Latin and Greek courses, and he was a welcome and wise presence there. Last semester George sat in on my Medieval Latin course. The students wondered at first who he was, but they warmed to him instantly and loved his frequent insights into our medieval Latin from his very different vantage point. George was both student and teacher last semester (he was teaching an adult learning class at a local college); he was ever interested in expanding his mind and the minds of others. At the end of my course, George gave me a gift of Rilke's poems and prose. I will now treasure this book, which will always remind me of George's warm, kind, and witty presence. We miss you, George.
Professor Bahlke was a true gentleman. He possessed grace, wit, honesty, and integrity. He was compassionate and gentle. Professor Bahlke was also a man of great intellect. His rigorousness, his curiosity, and his enthusiasm engaged and inspired his students. He was a man of impeccable taste, in literature and in all other things. I had the great pleasure of being able to learn from him, as one of his students. It was truly my privilege, and my good fortune, however, to have known him as a person. I mourn the loss of a wonderful teacher, and a good and gentle man.
cI remember my first class at Hamilton College- a 9:00 a.m introductory English course- because it was with George Bahlke. He was sweet, quirky, and intellectual. To my surprise, Professor Bahlke showed an interest in me as a person. This was new to me, something I never experienced in middle or high school. When I visited Professor Bahkle during office hours or spoke to him after class, he always asked me something- about my family, my hometown, my academic interests. It sounds simple, yet this reaching out had a significant impact on me. It made me feel less lost in the new and sometimes confounding world of college. At a time when I was struggling, Professor Bahlke made me feel like I mattered. Professor Bahlke was devoted to life on The Hill, especially to his students. My favorite memory of him epitomizes this dedication. Professor Bahlke invited our entire Virginia Woolf senior seminar to his house. There, he recreated the dinner from To the Lighthouse, complete with boeuf en daube and candlelight. I was touched not only by his generosity, but also his zeal for all things Woolf. It is difficult for me to express in words how grateful I feel for my experience at Hamilton with Professor Bahlke. He inspired my love of literature and my career teaching high school English. George Bahlke was an exceptional man who will be dearly missed.
George was one of the most important teachers that I have had the good fortune of encountering in my life, and played a vital role in my development as a student and as a human being. I was blessed to have been able to take several classes with George, and always went out of my way to sign up for anything that he was offering. George was a true humanist as well as a great teacher, and though he has departed he shall live on in in my memory and that of many others.
I was a student at Middlebury when George was a professor there. While I never had him in class, he and his wife became lifelong friends and important mentors, helping me in many ways to navigate the sometimes very bumpy road that go between adolescence and adulthood. He was certainly one of the reasons that I went into teaching. Reading the other reflections here delight and touch me. While I did not doubt it, it was heartwarming to hear that so many others remember him so warmly and experienced his remarkable humanity, his brilliance in the classroom and out, his studentship as he continually sought to expand his own horizons -- and his piquant sense of humor. He was, indeed, an avid traveler, and he has now taken the last long voyage home. I will miss him enormously, but he will continue to touch my life, in my heart and in my memory.
Court van Rooten
I met George through the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America. He was a great friend. I always enjoyed talking with George. I remember at the Lawrence Society dinner at the MLA in 2009 we discussed our mutual enthusiasm for Somerset Maugham because I had delivered a paper on Maugham and Lawence, and George told me he was glad someone was bringing back Maugham. On a more personal note, I also remember at the last Lawrence Society conference in England, I told George about my husband being deployed in Iraq. He immediately went into a hilarious imitation of Tokyo Rose, making me laugh instead of cry. I will always hold that warm memory in my heart.
I only found out today that George passed away, when he failed to show for a confirmed appointment we had in New York. I knew he'd not been well. He hadn't replied to an email I sent him last week and when he didn't answer his phone this morning I became suspicious. I quick Google search lead me to this page.
I met George about 6 years ago in New York City, at the Yale Club fitness center. Many might not have realized George remained active right to the end. "Professor Bahlke," as I came to call him, requested a personal trainer and I was truly lucky to have been assigned his file. Over the years George and I became real friends. I had a previous career as an actor and dancer and we often had lively discussions about the performing arts. He took particular interest when I returned to school several years back to pursue my master's degree. It had been a long time since my undergrad and the reading list was heavy (lots of philosophy) but George was encouraging. "This will be good for you, David," I can still hear him saying, and he patted me on the shoulder.
That year our workout sessions were an eclectic mixture of exercise and comparing notes on what we were reading. I was studying 19th century discipline theory. He was studying French and Latin. George was also the only person, other than my wife, who attended my graduation from that program. He put his arm around me and we took a picture and I felt he was genuinely proud of me. He bought the three of us lunch and presented me with a rare book as a gift. He was a true friend to a young man trying to find his way in the world and I will miss him immensely! I also knew of George's love of fine food, so tonight I raise a glass of good wine to George's memory. Here's to you Professor Bahlke! Rest well, gentle friend.
George was just interested in everyone. He had this playful intellectual curiosity that just somehow extended to the people around him. There was always this sense that he was at ease and relaxed, no matter who he was talking to. I remember the summer after I took a class with him I was working on campus and he just randomly took my girlfriend and I to lunch, pretty much just to chat. It was the only time I've ever been called a cheap date.
Michael Olivio '95
Professor Bahlke was, without question, the most talented and caring professor I had at Hamilton. He took a genuine interest in all of his students - regardless of their talent or interest in his area of expertise.
Aliette Estrada-Flaggert '97
One of my favorite professors. The one class I had with him studied the works of British/Irish poets like Yeats, Eliot and Keats. Despite being tasked with literature that was sometimes dense and cryptic, Prof. Balke kept class lively and fun by creating an informal learning atmosphere that promoted individual participation. At the beginning of every class, Professor Balke offered each of us tea/Pepperidge Farm cookies. He was truly a one-of-a-kind professor and a great guy.
Brad Little '04
Oh, what an irreplaceable human being has left the world. Professor Bahlke gave me some of my most cherished memories of Hamilton, of learning, of being taught. One quirk of Professor Bahlke's lecturing in my years at school was that he seemed totally unable to control the volume of his speech. He would bellow out like a preacher when he outlined syntax and structural points, then fall into soft-spoken reveries on the symbolism of Eliot. The class would hover over the seminar table, straining for a word, then recoil in our chairs as George roared out another central theme. I like to think this ebb and flow originated in soft-spoken shyness, suddenly energized by the conscious effort to give more, to serve well. I am still inspired by that exquisite self-examination that could take place even in mid-lecture. Professor Bahlke's awareness of human foibles translated into great love for his students as people as well as scholars. In one particular class, looking out at what were obviously strained and tired faces, he emphasized for us the importance of discipline during Finals week: "Now listen to me, all of you. I know that you're all very worried about your performance in your classes, but this is crucial. During this week, I want you all to eat, and wash."
Donna Fulkerson '83
Although not an English major, I had the good fortune of taking a class with Professor Bahlke, and he remained a mentor throughout my college career. Although he was very successful in imparting a love of English literature, which I treasure to this day, he was less successful in trying to teach me survival skills post -graduation. Shocked that I had never had a martini, he thought it was his duty to take me down to the Alexander Hamilton Inn (when there was a pub below) and buy me a martini as part of my farewell to Kirkland. Several of us in his class gathered there, while I took my first taste. I thought it was awful then, and I think they're pretty awful now, but I'll never forget how much time and attention he gave to his students. He truly was one of a kind.
Maria Zammit K'74
I have many lovely memories of George but my favorite of course revolve around our discussions of Virginia Woolf. We frequently discussed the sexual abuse she endured from her family members and her misdiagnoses. I longed to take his seminar but work and family commitments did not allow. I will regret this forever. George and Felicity attended my farewell party for Ivan Marki. He loved good food and drink and stimulating conversation. Although we did not see each other often, we always tried to sit together at Hamilton functions because we knew it would be both fun and interesting. I have great respect for George and will miss him on my return visits to Clinton. Edward, Ivan, Russell, Sidney and now George-the old school is leaving us.
Julia W. Burns, MD
My favorite professor ever. His love of literature permeated his classroom and his playful, kind, gentle nature included everyone in the adventure. I have an undying love and appreciation for TS Eliot to this day because of him. What a special man. I will cherish my memories.
Susanna Colwell Macaraeg
George Bahlke was an inspiring teacher and mentor. His love of learning and the great art of conversation were key contributing factors in making me who I am today. I prize his classes as a central highlight of my Hamilton experience. His globalized knowledge, which ranged from the classical to the contemporary to the absurd, was an integral manifestation of his quirky, generous humanity and I am grateful for having known him. A single raising of his eyebrow could say even more than one of his typically eloquent disquisitions, and he had a terrific sense of humor. I vaguely remember some of his more hilarious commentary punctuated by snores from his bulldog in class, but perhaps this memory has been fogged by time. I hold his memory very dear to my heart, and I extend my deepest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed.
Prof. Bahlke and his courses were a significant part of my experience on The Hill. He was first my teacher, then my mentor, and ultimately my friend. I had the good fortune of taking many of his classes and he encouraged my passion for English literature. Looking back, he forgave me most of my youthful arrogance (not all), and always encouraged my exuberance. I valued our conversations about literature and about life. He was a gentleman, in the very true sense of the word. He was both gentle and refined in his sensibilities. I feel priviledged to have known him, and cannot think of Hamilton without thinking of him. My most sincere condolences to his family and friends.
David Nastasi '96
I cannot think of Professor Bahlke, without picturing two things, cookies and revision notes. His class was the first intimate, discussion-based class I had taken in my life. There were about six of us in a cozy room, around a small table, with Chessmen cookies as the centerpiece. Now, having taught writing myself, I can recognize Professor Bahlke's love for us. All those revision notes on my completed assignments (almost more than my original writing) expressed his sincere desire to make me better. Professor Bahlke was a gift to his students and I would like to thank his family for sharing such a nice person with us.
Professor George Bahlke's passing is an enormous loss for Hamilton. My memories of a solid and inspiring educational experience in his British Poetry and Arthurian Legend courses will forever be embossed with his gentle humor, kind smile, eternal patience, and soft but incredibly articulate speech. I will never forget the day we had to give short presentations, and a student had such terrible stagefright when his turn came that there was utter silence in the classroom for over five minutes, other than a few gentle, quiet encouragements of "it's OK" from Professor Bahlke. The student did not present that day, but stayed at the end of class to talk with his teacher...the next class he presented first thing, with confidence and poise. I credit this turnaround to Professor Bahlke's everpresent gentle but insistent belief in his students...every one of them. I also remember walking by him at graduation, as our proud educators lined the way, and his reaching out his hand to me with a broad smile. Of course, I threw my arms around him, unable to control my affection. Requiescat in Pace, Magister Clemens.
Ariane (McCoy) Oliver '90
I have known George for many years, indeed as long as he has been on the hill. But for the past several years we have been members of an exclusive book club-- so exclusive in fact that we have been the only members. Thus I feel I can say with real conviction that George was a gentleman and scholar. This may sound like a cliche but I mean it in the sense that it is still, I believe, a compliment to call a man a gentleman and it is a different kind of compliment to call him a scholar. Together they describe a very special man and that George was. All of us know George's kindly, generous, polite gentle manner and some of us know his continuing scholarly interests. In my case I benefited from his knowledge of English literature as we read and discussed many books together. Some of these books were, on George's suggestion, on modern physics and cosmology and here he displayed the other side of his scholarly proclivities as he wanted me to be the teacher and he was the eager student. So it is natural and sincere for me to say of George-- You, sir, were a gentleman and a scholar.
Professor Bahlke was a class act. There was an elegance to him that was balanced out with incredible kindness. He was the only professor I had at Hamilton who let us hand write our papers. He said it made him feel closer to us - a window to our souls. I'm so sorry to hear of his passing, which came much too soon. He will always be a part of my academic memories. My heart goes out to his family and friends.
Lindsey Pizzica Rotolo
The world is surely a better place for George Bahlke having been in it. His seminars were among the most memorable of my Kirkland experiences. He inspired me to find more within myself than I knew was there, to think differently, trust my powers of analysis, and write some truly creative and wonderful papers.
Julie Weinstein K'75
In the early 1990's, I took a senior seminar on D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster with Professor Bahkle. Listening to him talk so passionately about novels such as A Passage to India, A Room with a View, Sons and Lovers, and Lady Chatterley's Lover was just awe-inspiring. Those of us in the class couldn't help but be enthralled as well, even if we couldn't quite get our minds around the strangeness that is later Lawrence. Professor Bahlke was so loved, though, not only because of his ability to share his passion for literature, but also because he was so incredibly approachable and eager to try new things himself: he was most definitely not a "stodgy academic." I remember having dinner at his house with some of the people from that Lawrence/Forster seminar and noticing that he had a copy of the latest Motley Crue album in his collection. I asked him about it, and he said "I had hopes for it, but I was very disappointed." This was followed by an explanation of how it didn't live up to their previous work. As an English Professor myself now, I try to emulate Professor Bahlke in my approach to teaching and learning--I couldn't have asked for a better role model.
What a sweet man he was, and how proud I was to be his friend. I was on the Hamilton faculty from 1976 to 1980 and we shared a love of Auden, civilized discourse, literary parlor games, and convivial dinners begun with martinis and sustained by good fellowship and love.
Prof. George Bahlke was my introduction to Hamilton academics in the fall of '84 teaching my English 200 class at 9AM on Mondays and my seminar professor as a senior Lit major in the spring semester '88 studying Forster and Lawrence. He was the epitome of kindness, warmth and intellectual joy. He and his late wife invited all of us newbies to dinner in the fall of '84 at their home in Clinton for a lovely meal and lots of laughs and literary fun. When I graduated, he assured me that I had a lifetime of reading and pleasure ahead of me. I think of him all the time when I teach my own A.P. English students -- in particular, this last year when I taught Forster's A Passage to India. I even used my old book! I just learned of his passing tonight at a Hamilton event in San Diego. Although he asked me to call him "George" after graduation, it was always a little difficult. For me, he will always be my much loved and greatly admired English mentor: "Professor Bahlke." Sincerely, Kathleen Lynch Hale, '88
Kathy Hale '88
I first knew of George Bahlke as Felicity’s beau, who was considered by all amazing because he wrote poetry to her. Then for years flowers for Felicity were delivered weekly to Paddywacks from George. WOW!
George became a treasured friend to Peter and me. His sensitivity and interest in our individual lives enriched our lives immeasurably. We shared laughter, joy and tragedy together. I remember the day when George was teaching me to scan poetry as the Twin Towers fell repeatedly on TV behind him!...a good metaphor for his solid choice of priorities, I think. I was enriched so by his enthusiasm for the life of opera, art, and theater, especially in New York….by the vivid pictures he painted of his travels abroad…by his pride in his family. He and Felicity came to the hospital all the way to Cooperstown when Peter was ill. When cancer dictated that I have breasts removed, he selected the perfect reading in the over-the-top mysteries by Dorothy Sayers and brought a wonderful selection to my bedside. Peter and he enjoyed a running mutual admiration society for their shared enjoyment of the proper (and improper) use of the English language.
His memory and his gentle but firm persuasion of us toward his compassionate embrace of the thinking life of culture will remain with me and be shared.
Catharine J. Westlake
I still have a hard copy of George Bahlke's final exam for English 355: Modern British Poetry from December 1988, three hours I will never forget. (Three of my most grueling hours as an English Major. ) George knew how to make us truly work. As I struggled, I wanted so badly to impress him as my own form of gratitude for his magnificent intellect, brought forth with a gentle power. Whenever I read or teach Yeats and Thomas, George's voice is always steering me. As for that final exam, I love to show it to my students, whom all respond with awe.
Michael P. Thomas '89
I am a lover of Virginia Woolfe, thanks to Professor Bahlke. And tea. Every class in our seminar of five started with tea and cookies. Professor Bahlke discovered early on what my favorite cookie was and from then on, I was a goner. What started with two traditional students, a math professor, and a friend of the college, soon evolved into a gathering of contemporaries discussing the high points of British literature, while drinking our tea, the British way of course. His was my favorite class. Professor Bahlke surpassed his role as teacher; he became my friend. He attended my dance performances, came out of retirement to read my thesis, gave me books, and was the first one I shared my engagement with in person. It was a fitting tribute to a good man to have standing room only at his funeral in Clinton this spring. I am thankful to have known him.