“The classroom is a magical place with time and space suspended while faculty and students roam the universe in search of ideas. It is also where talents and intellects are nourished and developed. ... If helping develop an informed, intelligent human being is an art, teachers are artists. If not artists, magicians.”
– Emory Estes
Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
UT Arlington Professor Emeritus Emory Estes died peacefully Saturday morning, March 16, 2013, his family at his side. He had battled a growing list of infirmities for eight months. He was 87.
Just two days before, smiles and laughter had punctuated his hospital room. His voice sounded strong. He read The New York Times on the Internet. With gusto he knocked back beef bullion and green Jell-O, declaring it the best Jell-O he’d ever had (saying even the spoon tasted good). He had encountered precious little green Jell-O over the years for comparison, but no matter.
Early Friday he was transferred to cardiac critical care. Thursday was his last rally, and it was grand. “Splendid!” he might have called it.
Expressions of sympathy could benefit the Emory Estes Scholarship at UT Arlington or a charity of choice. Dr. Estes taught 51 years at UTA, retiring in 2007. After earning his bachelor’s degree, he taught five years in Tatum and Hawkins high schools.
A graduate of the University of North Texas (master’s degree) and TCU (doctorate), he chaired the UTA English Department for 12 years until a heart attack in 1982. After recovering from cardiac bypass surgery, he returned to the classroom as a professor full time.
“I remember him walking into the classroom, always announcing, ‘Good morning, scholars,’ ” said Heather Clampitt Levy, one of Dr. Estes’ many ex-students who also worked for the campus newspaper. His wife, Dorothy, retired in 1996 as director of UTA Student Publications, which produces The Shorthorn.
“Dr. Estes never pushed us in a conventional way,” recalled another former student, Abbi Hertz. “He inspired us to give our best by being inspiring in the classroom.” Dallas Morning News investigative reporter Reese Dunklin: “He was so supportive and enthusiastic about journalism. He made it cool and important. You felt jazzed.”
Whatever topic was at hand, that’s how it came across — cool and important. Dr. Estes relished the challenge of teaching students who may have lacked his passion for literature. He never allowed anyone to grade his papers, even the numerous rewrites, and he refused to use old notes, preparing every lecture as if it were the first time he had delivered it.
“Professor Estes brought a uniquely broadened dimension to his classroom performance,” said former Provost George Wright. “Few teachers could match Emory’s exuberance and love for teaching.”
Dr. Estes chaired the university’s first teaching effectiveness seminar, and former English Department Chair Nancy Wood noted that he served on all campus and departmental committees, including search committees for faculty and deans, and that he volunteered for early classes so younger faculty members could manage their small children. “He never lost sight of the students’ emotional or intellectual welfare,” Wood said. “Former Chair Judi McDowell made him an honorary woman for his support of female faculty members. He was effective with all students, including the less gifted.”
Dr. Estes received the department’s first award for teaching excellence created by Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society.
A tireless researcher and something of a showman, he proclaimed his love of history and literature in classrooms as diverse as an East Texas country schoolhouse and a Malaysian compound where he carried chalk in his pocket to keep the monkeys from eating it.
He taught at the University of Malaysia, Shah Alam, Malaysia, in 1986-1988 with the Texas Education Consortium. While there he rode an elephant, had breakfast with an orangutan and posed for a photo with a cobra around his neck. At the University of London in 1992, again with the consortium, he adjusted his lectures for IRA bomb threats. One bomb went off an hour after his students left 10 Downing Street, and another exploded an hour before they were scheduled to meet at a pub frequented by English writers.
At UTA under his direction, the English Department developed a doctoral program and published four literary journals. A number of his students have published short stories, novels and plays, including Tim Westmoreland and the actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Classes with Dr. Estes were “fascinating, difficult, sometimes almost insurmountable,” Westmoreland said. “He was always available for discussion, questions and clarifications outside class. He had a profound influence on my life and on the lives of many other students.”
In recent years Dr. Estes researched the life and works of Robert Burns in Scotland and London. In the British Library he was assigned the carrel used by Karl Marx.
All of these adventures he experienced with Dorothy by his side. Theirs was a romance for all time. They met when they jostled in a hallway in the Administration Building at East Texas Baptist College, spilling her textbooks to the floor. Emory reached down to retrieve them, and by the time he straightened up, he was in love.
They were a power couple before the term hit the lexicon, both accomplished professionally at the highest level of their fields and both epically strong-willed. They shared politics and civic concerns; Dr. Estes was active in the Downtown Arlington Rotary Club. They possessed complementary strengths and interests except for football, which Dorothy finds barbaric.
Dr. Estes chaired the UTA Athletic Department for four years and helped plan Maverick Stadium. As Southland Conference president he helped launch the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La. He attended games for all SLC universities while he was president and made every football game son Emory played at Arlington High School and UTA.
During World War II he served in G-2 Intelligence under Gen. Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea, Australia and the Philippines. An 18-year-old high school graduate from the Texas piney woods, he was shipped to the New Guinea jungle with a rifle and a bayonet after three months training in the snow. Years later he would recall being “locked in battle with seasoned Japanese soldiers already acclimated and entrenched on the island.”
Three months and two battles later — and still 18 — young Emory was told to report to Australia. He had been dropped in New Guinea by mistake and should have been on MacArthur’s support staff in Brisbane, compiling reports from guerrillas planning to recapture the Philippines.
He would always remember MacArthur’s kindness. “I had contacted a fever of unknown origin in New Guinea and had lost a lot of weight. Soon after my arrival, I was sticking pins in the map before a strategy meeting when he stopped to inquire about my health and to welcome me to the staff.” Dr. Estes would come to acknowledge MacArthur’s arrogance but praised his brilliance and dedication. “The general didn’t send his troops into battle, he led them through enemy fire and jungle terrain.”
Dr. Estes worked in Australia until the campaign began to recapture South Pacific islands, and he landed behind MacArthur at Lingayen and Leyte in the push to free the Philippines. In Manila he learned the dangers of urban warfare where troops moved building to building, defending themselves against grenades and snipers.
(For 20 years he was guest lecturer in now-retired Professor George Green’s World War II history class. “Students were mesmerized by a personal account of battle from someone who had been younger than they were,” Green said. “At the end of each class, they lined up to shake his hand and express their appreciation.”)
He was present for the Tokyo signing of the peace treaty and stayed to record war crimes against the Japanese armed forces. He received seven medals, including a bronze star, Asiatic Pacific with three battle stars, Philippine Liberation with two battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation from Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Missing somehow is a medal for memories made. Former student Laurie Ward appreciated “the expansive and hearty laughs, the merry grins and eyes that really did twinkle.” Ex-student Bill Sanderson said Dr. Estes’ “natural elegance was leavened with a keen humor. He adored the love of his life and honored his students with his many gifts.”
Retired UTA Student Publications Associate Director John Dycus landed his first real job in 1970 working for Dorothy Estes, who then headed the publications program. Talking with her husband was a thing he liked to do.
“Dr. Estes roared through life with unflagging zeal,” Dycus said. “Always robust. Rowdy on occasion. The adjectives list pales. Patriot. Author. Intellectual. Mentor. A professor for the ages. I liked friend best.”
Dr. Estes is survived by his wife, Dorothy; son Emory Estes III and his wife, Patti; daughter Sharon Daily and her husband, Louis; grandchildren Christopher Daily, Ashley and Creighton Tubb, Justin and Amy Jeter, Ross and Nancy Jeter; great-grandchildren Jackson and Ardyn Tubb and Kate, Owen and Reese Jeter; 10 nieces and nephews; and a multitude of close friends and former students.
He was preceded in death by daughter Linda Elois Estes and parents Emory Estes Sr. and Thelma Pyle Estes.
During a lengthy illness, he received compassionate assistance and support from Debi and David Krych, Harriette Fowler, Audrey and Elizabeth Wick, Nancy Wood, Sylvia and Zane Davis, Terri Valentine, Peggy Lofland, Janet Neff,Victor and Noelia Cerqueda, Dekela Neal, Candi and Mel LeBlanc, Louise and Joe Guthrie, and Fred Bondurant.
Pallbearers were Christopher Daily, Justin and Ross Jeter, Gary Darcangelo, Clinton Carter and Bill Reeves. Honorary pallbearers: Wendell Nedderman and members of the Downtown Arlington Rotary Club.
Interment is at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. UTA flags flew at half-staff through the funeral.