Richard F. Somer

Upson Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory (1977-2000)

Presented: March 6, 2018, by John O'Neill, professor of English emeritus

Richard SomerI first met Dick Somer at a reception for new faculty members in the fall of 1977. When I asked him what subject he was going to teach, he replied, “I am a rhetor.”

I had just met him, and already he had taught me a new word! Dick had an ironic sense of humor, and it was sometimes possible to mistake his mock solemnity for pomposity.

Richard Somer was born on Dec. 7, 1934, in Centralia, Ill. He received an A.B. degree from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1955; a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1960, and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1967. In Urbana he met Arlene Kullen; they were married in August of 1959. He is survived by Arlene; their son, Shubert; their daughter, Nora; a son-in-law, Kevin Bogdanow; and a grandson, Augustus Bogdanow.

Before coming to Hamilton, Dick served on the faculties of Hobart Col­lege, Geneva, N.Y.; of the State University of New York at Geneseo; and of the University of Denver. He joined the Hamilton faculty in July 1977 and was appointed to the Upson Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory in 1994. He retired in 2000.

As a teacher, Dick was an authoritative, if sometimes intimidating, presence in the classroom. John Christopher ’83 wrote of him as follows:         

In class, there wasn’t a person who was unaware of Dick’s presence. He often reminded us of this during our oral presentations, when his voice would rise up from the back of the class: “I can’t hear you, John!” I have since had many opportunities for public speaking from the courtroom to the boardroom, and to this day, I still hear his voice in the back of my mind. Believe me, I no longer have any problems with projection.

The student course guide of 1978 says of his public speaking course, “Students have praised this course as one of their most valuable educational experiences at Hamilton. While some students found the instructor to be sternly critical, they all expressed great respect for his command of the ‘mother tongue.’”

For many years, Dick was one of a group of faculty members who had morning coffee together in the Backus House. Many colleagues’ memories of him mention that space.

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