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Dr. Warren Ober

     Research is curiosity-driven and takes you wherever it takes you. But it also lets you make great friends along the way. That’s the conclusion one draws from talking to Distinguished Professor Emeritus Warren Ober. When he retired from the English Department in 1994, he bade farewell only to one part of his career. Twice Chair (and once Acting Dean of the Faculty of Arts), he was actively involved in the department’s early formation, from the hiring of many new faculty members in the late sixties and early seventies to the introduction of several programs, including English graduate studies and the English co-op program, and, later, as a senior department member, Rhetoric and Professional Writing at the undergraduate, and Language and Professional Writing at the graduate levels. Even while he was a busy administrator, Dr. Ober relished teaching. "As Chair I had to persuade my colleagues to teach new classes," he recalls, especially after English rolled out a number of new 200-level courses that non-majors could take. "So when my time as Chair ended, I decided I’d put my money where my mouth was and teach one myself." The result was English 208H, Arthurian Legend, which he built "from the ground up." As he observed in a 2008 interview with English faculty member Heather Smyth, that course became one of his favourites to teach. (Dr. Ober’s former student Kelly Regan [née Smith], BA 1984, also remembers the class fondly. Click here to read her profile.)

     But as his administrative and teaching responsibilities wound down, his career as a scholar accelerated, entering a new and rewarding phase that still flourishes fifteen years later. Using the same collaborative approach that he preferred throughout his career, Dr. Ober has several research projects in progress. On the day of his interview for this profile he was on his way to meet Neil Hultin, another retired UW English professor, in the Porter Library. The two have edited a facsimile reproduction of the nineteenth-century Irish antiquarian Thomas Crofton Croker’s Legends of the Lakes: or, Sayings and Doings at Killarney (2008) and continue to research the life and work of this author, who was, as Dr. Ober says, "a folklorist before the term was invented." Also underway is a joint scholarly commentary with fellow scholar (and former Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Northern Illinois University) Paul Burtness on three letters from General Douglas MacArthur that the renowned World War II hero wrote to Dr. Burtness and Dr. Ober, both U.S. Navy veterans of that conflict. The two received the letters in 1962 when they were researching the background to the war in the Pacific and will now put them into the public domain. "People are always interested in how a culture defines its heroes," he observes, and at the end of his long career, General MacArthur, too, had his legacy as an American hero to think about.

     Dr. Ober has stayed in touch with many of his former colleagues at the university and would enjoy hearing from his former students. He may be reached at

Click here to read Professor Smyth’s longer interview with Dr. Ober.

Click here to view an image of Dr. Ober on the Faculty of Arts 50th Anniversary website.