Oliver Steele (1928-2018)

From Professor Emerita Miriam Gilbert:

Oliver was one of our valued colleagues in the Department of English. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1928, he never lost his Southern accent, or his charm or his dry wit; he took his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Auburn University and his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia (1965). Oliver taught at the University of Virginia between 1959 and 1967, then joined the University of Iowa’s Department of English in 1967, and retired in 1992. I had the privilege of teaching with Oliver (and Bill Kupersmith) in one of the department’s signature courses, the Literature Semester; that meant, among other memorable moments, leading a discussion on Book I of The Faerie Queene, using the splendid edition that Oliver and Robert Kellogg had edited.

From Professor Florence Boos:

When I first entered the English Department in 1973 I came to appreciate Oliver Steele for his kindness, tolerance, and zest for intellectual conversation and debate. In department meetings he was an eloquent and persuasive speaker, never quarrelsome even when others were heated, and always open to new ideas and persons of all backgrounds. He loved historical poetry, and I enjoyed co-teaching with him a course in “Spenser and Tennyson.” Oliver was also remarkable for his willingness to read many new books each semester in order to discuss them with the graduate students who flocked to him for independent study courses. He is fitly characterized by Chaucer’s famous tribute to a scholar: “Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.”

Oliver SteeleOliver Lee Steele, Jr., 90, of Iowa City, passed away on December 5th, 2018, at his home.

No services are planned at this time. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Southern Poverty Law Center or Audubon Society.

Oliver was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 13, 1928, son of Oliver Lee and Mary Lucile (Abernethy) Steele, Sr. Oliver graduated from Auburn University, served in the armed forces in Germany and on return received a PhD in English from the University of Virginia.

In 1967, Oliver was hired on as a professor of English at the University of Iowa, where he taught for several decades, retiring in 1992. As a professor at Iowa, Oliver was passionate about introducing the world of literature to his many students. His research and publications were centered on bibliography and poets of the Elizabethan era.

In retirement, Oliver and Joy shared a love of reading mystery novels, working their way through the vast collection at the Iowa City Public Library. He loved the outdoors and in later life spent much of his time along side Joy walking in nature. As avid birdwatchers, they had many favorite local spots like Kent State Park and the Iowa Field Campus and every so often would venture out on longer trips around the country, where they could witness migrating birds.

When not engaged in those activities, Oliver enjoyed watching baseball, especially his beloved Cubs. He was a gentle and reserved man who cared deeply about his work and issues of social justice.

Oliver is survived by his wife, Joy (Cogdell) Steele; two sisters, Ann Andrews and Mary Lynch; his children, Christopher (Monica) of Ely, MN, Mark (Janet Lilly) of Greensboro, NC, Eleanor of Iowa City, Andrew of Staatsburg, NY and Paul (Anne) of Austin TX, and his much-loved grandchildren, Emma, Jimmy, Elizabeth, Grace, Samuel, and Theo.

Oliver was preceded in death by his son-in-law, Kirk Walther of Iowa City.

Published in the Press-Citizen on Dec. 10, 2018