Pro­fessor of classics Grace West died on May 19 in her home. (External Affairs)

An accom­plished scholar, respected teacher, and devout Christian, tenured Hillsdale classics pro­fessor Grace Starry West died sud­denly from lung cancer on Sunday, May 19, in her home. Her Order of Burial service was held May 22 at Holy Trinity Parish in Hillsdale.    

Perhaps best known for the great depth and variety of her research, the pin­nacle of her trans­lation work came in 1984 when she col­lab­o­rated with her husband, Hillsdale Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Tom West, to translate works by Plato and Aristo­phanes.   

She also taught at the col­le­giate level for 44 years — 35 years as an asso­ciate pro­fessor of classics at the Uni­versity of Dallas and eight years at Hillsdale College.

“I was very happy to assist in the tran­sition of the Wests from Dallas to Hillsdale,” said Hillsdale Provost David Whalen.

While he had no pre­vious rela­tionship with West, Whalen said he was struck by her seri­ousness yet simul­ta­neous pleas­antness on the phone. Upon arrival, she adapted to her new envi­ronment quite well, and quickly.

“Few people can be so readily a part of some­thing after spending decades some­where else,” Whalen said. “Every­thing I know about her time here at Hillsdale agrees that she was a stalwart member of the classics department, absolutely reliable, and a sound teacher and scholar.”

Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Classics Gavin Weaire remembers West’s immense con­tri­bu­tions to the field of classics. Among her col­leagues in Hillsdale’s classics department, she was the most pub­lished and had many articles about Virgil- the focus of her doc­toral dis­ser­tation.  

While Latin and Latin poetry were her spe­cialties, Weaire said she was also aston­ish­ingly knowl­edgeable in Greek.  

West and Weaire were good friends outside the department, often getting meals together.

“She was a great per­sonal help to me over the years, at various times when I needed help,” Weaire said.

Within the department, she was an active con­tributor to group deci­sions and also willing to help col­leagues and stu­dents outside the classroom. Weaire said West had “tremendous gen­erosity.”

“If you were in trouble, Grace was extra­or­di­narily willing to help, to go outside and put her own interests behind other people’s,” he said.

During her decades of teaching prior to Hillsdale, she was able to make immense con­tri­bu­tions to the Uni­versity of Dallas and to its stu­dents.  According to her obituary, she helped found the classics department at the Uni­versity of Dallas. She was also able to pos­i­tively influence stu­dents at the under­graduate and doc­toral levels.

West instructed Hillsdale Assistant Pro­fessor of English Benedict Whalen in several Latin courses while he was an under­graduate at the Uni­versity of Dallas.

Whalen dis­tinctly remembers how her seminar class on Virgil’s “Aeneid” impacted him.

“I am pro­foundly indebted to her as a kind and patient teacher for showing me Virgil’s excel­lence and why we should love and study Virgil,” Whalen said. “She brought whole new worlds out of Virgil for me and had a del­icate touch in leading stu­dents to see the poetry and careful art in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid.’”

Whalen said and his fellow stu­dents often prompted West to go on tan­gents about ancient Rome — in which she con­veyed facts through stories about Rome and Latin — that kept the class engaged during lec­tures.  

A lover of the book ever since West’s class, Whalen has taught the “Aeneid” in English in several classes at Hillsdale and other uni­ver­sities. It is one of the books that he believes is important to the Great Books tra­dition.

“Her teaching me how Latin poetry  and Virgil’s poetry works was one thing I will never forget, and for which I am extremely grateful,” Whalen said.

Several years later, then Uni­versity of Dallas Ph.D can­didate Jason Stevens also had an equally impactful expe­rience  in one of West’s Greek classes.

In order to achieve a Ph.D in pol­itics, stu­dents at the Uni­versity of Dallas were required to take both modern and ancient lan­guages. Stevens chose to com­plete German and Greek.  He rec­og­nized the dif­fi­culty that he had with lan­guages going into Grace West’s class.

Having already fin­ished the three basic Greek courses, he would have to pass one final Greek trans­lation course.

“When I came into the Herodotus trans­lation class with Dr. Grace West, that was sort of a make or break moment for me,” Stevens said. “I would not have been able to do it without her help and guidance. I mean that woman treated me better than I deserved, she was patient, she was kind, she was always willing to work with you to help you.”

By the end of the course, Greek was no longer an issue for Stevens, and he admitted that it somehow all made sense for the first time.

“Some­thing clicked and I got it, unlike ever before. I cannot explain why but I know it had every­thing to do with her,” he said.

Like Ben Whalen, he went on to achieve his doc­torate, and also taught from the main text taught by West. Stevens has taught Western Civ­i­liza­tions 1 at Ashland Uni­versity several times, and uses selec­tions from Herodotus, teaching with trans­la­tions developed in her class.

Stevens is grateful to West for teaching him to under­stand Greek unlike before and helping him to achieve his aspi­ration of a Ph.D.

According to West’s obituary, the family asks that in lieu of flowers, dona­tions be sent to Hillsdale College with a note “in memory of Grace West.” The funds will be used in support of classics stu­dents.