On Saturday, Dec. 11, friends and family of Oscar G. Brockett gathered at the F. Loren Winship Drama Building on The University of Texas at Austin campus to celebrate his life and pay tribute to him as a scholar, a father and a friend.
Brockett, a leading theatre historian and professor emeritus, died on Nov. 7 at the age of 87.
Here is a selection of tributes from his students, colleagues, family and friends:
“Dr. Brockett was without a doubt the most influential teacher I ever had. My first class with him in graduate school was like opening a window in my mind and letting in a whole new, much more flexible way of thinking about the world, where there were no longer rigid black and white answers to questions. Any opinion was acceptable as long it was defensible. He expected his students never to cease to challenge their own opinions and likewise never ceased to do the same himself.”
– Suzanne Hassler
“He has been at the edge of every thought and feeling I have had since I heard the news of his passing. What astonishes me is not his absence but his presence. And as I read the scores of tributes that have been pouring in, I realize that he is there with each of you, and he is alive and vibrant and strong and kind and cantankerous, and funny and fierce. He wrote the books that have given us our past. He wrote the books that helped us to imagine our futures. But most important of all are the books he wrote inside each of our lives. We will live them every day, if we are lucky and remember how to read them.”
– Susan Zeder
“Brock was an incredible individual: witty, intellectual, stubborn, pragmatic, interesting, generous, opinionated and warm. His journey from a bare-foot childhood on a Tennessee tobacco farm to a Ph.D. at Stanford and an accomplished academic career was chocked full of adventure, hard work and some equally hard knocks. But of all the traits that described Brock, as a friend, he was loving, gracious and loyal. He was highly respected and admired by more than one generation of students, colleagues and friends. And he will be missed.”
– Sondra Lomax
“I remember sitting in one of my first faculty meetings at UT. Brock was passionately arguing some point or other; a position contrary to that held by most of the faculty. When the vote was called he voted in opposition to the position he had just argued. When I asked him about this later he said that he thought both sides of the question needed to be clearly heard … so he took it upon himself to argue the other side even though he didn’t agree with it …”
– Bob Schmidt
“He was a sweet, generous, wise man with a great, dry sense of humor. I often quote his dictum from our contemporary theater seminar, ‘Change or die.’ He believed that theater must always be reinventing itself. He came to see everything, including student work. One of my fondest memories is of seeing him at Michael’s house after a performance there of Lurana O’Malley’s production of ‘Fefu and her Friends.’ And I think it was his birthday.”
– Steve Bacher
“As much as he taught me about theatre history and theory and about the life of a scholar, his deepest influence on me was modeling what a theatre professor should be. He was deeply committed to seeing and supporting the work of his students. He saw everything. And we all noticed. And I try to do that, as best I can, to this day.”
– Lurana O’Malley
“I remember telling Brock that his ‘Century of Innovation: A History of European and American Theatre and Drama Since the Late Nineteenth Century’ was one of the best books I had ever read. The next week I went over to his place and saw a copy of it open. I asked, ‘Are you reading that?’ He answered, ‘You’re right, it’s pretty good.’
– Brant Pope
“My professional life exists because of Dr. Brockett, and I could never possibly pay him back for all his advice and kindness over many years. But his is sort of a pay-it-forward business we are in, this teaching business, and we are all paying forward to others that kindness and truth that Dr. Brockett gave to us.”
– T.J. Walsh
“Brock was one of the first people I met when I took my first job, in the English Department at UT. He was and has remained a model for me, one hard to live up to, too: always interested in and engaged by what’s new, emerging, as-yet-without-paradigm; working across institutional and disciplinary borders; an utterly reliable friend and colleague.”
– W.B. Worthen
“He continued to teach because he felt he had an obligation to his students and his profession. He lived to work, in the very best of ways.”
– Francesca Brockett, daughter
Additional tributes to Brockett are welcome in the comment section below.