Remembered for his commitment to students, high standards, and wry sense of humor, Richard Eugene “Gene” Templeton, former chairman of the Hillsdale College English department, died at his home on Aug. 29 at the age of 81.
Born in Tennessee before moving to Michigan as a child, Templeton served as a professor of English at Hillsdale from 1967 until his retirement in 1997, chairing the department for five years. He married Ellen Justice-Templeton, former chair of the French department at Hillsdale College, in 1981. After a memorial service Tuesday, he was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.
Templeton was the first in his family to receive a college education, said Brent Templeton ’86, Gene Templeton’s youngest son.
“As a young man, he worked 40 hours a week, had four kids, and was also going to school full time,” Brent Templeton said. “That was a good indication of his character and tenacity and perseverance.”
That tenacity carried into the workplace, where Templeton’s colleagues remember his devotion to his work and students. He’d often be in his office with the door wide open, recalled Christopher Busch, professor of English, who worked with Templeton after coming to Hillsdale in 1991.
Templeton was a tough grader with high standards, students said. Brent recalled that once, his peers were discussing what a tough professor Templeton was — and Brent told them that was why he chose a math major.
“I remember him being a stickler for details,” said Nicole Coonradt, visiting assistant professor of English. A December 1988 Hillsdale graduate, she took one or two classes with Templeton and had him as a reader for her thesis defense.
“He was very meticulous, and I got good feedback from him; he was the one challenging me,” she said.
Professor of English John Somerville, who also worked with Templeton for the last several years of Templeton’s time at Hillsdale, said Templeton encouraged him to hold high standards for students’ work.
For all his toughness as a grader, though, Templeton had a wry sense of humor and a kind heart.
Noting that Templeton’s class was “always interesting,” Coonradt recalled that Templeton once brought a pickle dish into class to illustrate a climactic moment in Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome.”
A “peacemaker” and a “moderator” who listened to all perspectives at meetings, Templeton encouraged the professors who worked for him and tried to create departmental unity, Busch said. Templeton held a departmental retreat, invited professors over for dinner, and initiated a lecture series for English professors to each talk about something they studied.
As a father, Templeton was “consistent and kind” and encouraged his four children to be independent thinkers, Brent said.
Kids laughed a lot in his home, recalled Angie Berry, trade book coordinator at the Hillsdale College bookstore, who grew up as a playmate of Templeton’s children. It was hard to get Templeton to laugh, she said, “but when he did laugh, he laughed joyously.”
Templeton had “lots of passions,” with a soft spot for animals and the humane society, Brent said. He loved tennis and camping and would take camping trips almost every weekend in the summer.
“He took on a lot of different challenges as a professor,” Brent said, noting that Templeton was the men’s tennis coach at Hillsdale for a few seasons and also started a communication arts program at the college.
Hillsdale faculty regarded Templeton well and benefited from his efforts in the English department, Busch said.
“He was just one of those really steady people who tried to do right by the college and the people he worked with,” he said.