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Classics professor was 'true intellectual" who cared deeply for students

Dirk t. D. Held, the Elizabeth S. Kruidenier ’48 Professor of Classics and longtime chair of the classics department, died March 20.

Held’s enthusiasm for the classics and encouraging demeanor heavily influenced many of his students, including Assistant Professor of Classics Eric Adler ’95, who says he would never have majored in classics if not for his colleague.

“Dirk was my adviser when I was a student,” Adlers said. “He was an unbelievably talented teacher, with an easygoing, avuncular manner and a wry sense of humor. He was also a supportive, unselfish man, in the classroom and out. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do — he routinely took on 4/3 teaching loads, did multiple independent studies and, despite all his obligations, he managed to publish widely, writing really top-notch scholarship. If he’s not a model of what a Connecticut College professor should be, I don’t know who is.”

Held had a similar impact on classical languages major Travis Lynch ’12, who took Held’s class on Socrates as his freshman seminar.

“His treatment of the Socratic dialogues was the beginning of my interest in philosophy,” Lynch said. “I read more Plato with Held in Greek later on, and this academic year I had been working on a thesis about the philosopher. Indeed, I got involved in the classics department largely under his influence. He was perhaps the most influential professor I have ever had.”

Like Adler, Lynch appreciated Held’s sense of humor as well as his kindness.

“He was a warm person. The classics department once held a majors/minors event in which students in the department presented regarding their semesters abroad and work. At the end of the presentation, Held stood up and said — I paraphrase — that it was great to be a professor of classics because of authors like Aeschylus and Thucydides, but even more so because of the students,” Lynch said.

Held went above and beyond for students and alumni, including  Julia Harnett Lenzi ’10, a double major in classics and history and a Latin language fellow. Now a Latin teacher at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, Lenzi needs some additional Greek to get into graduate school, but her schedule wouldn’t allow her to take Held’s introductory ancient Greek course this semester. So he met with her separately from the rest of the class.

“He was so generous with his time, for me and all my peers,” Lenzi said. “He worked with us on more than just our course schedules — he wanted to know what we wanted from our careers and how he could help, with letters of recommendation or calls of reference. He was my adviser for the four years of college and, really, the two years after.”

And of his teaching style, Lenzi said: “I took a class with him most semesters, and he was so intent on building a community in our classroom, encouraging us to share with one another, and that fostered a love for classics in us all. As a Latin teacher, I take that to heart and try to incorporate that community in my classes.”

In addition to courses in Greek, Held was teaching a course this semester on Vergil’s “Aeneid” and independent studies on Greek, Homer and women in classical antiquity. He had a total of 27 students in those courses and was advising 25 students.
“This, of course, is herculean,” said Adler. “But it was typical of Dirk’s efforts on behalf of the College, his undergraduates and the classics.”

Held earned his B.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University. His teaching and research focused on the relation of classical antiquity to the modern world. On his College profile, Held wrote: “I like to investigate the value systems of the ancient world, with attention to how they have shaped our own values and how they contrast with them. The modern age learns from both.”

In addition to his 32 years as classics department chair, Held served on numerous College committees, including the Faculty Steering and Conference Committee, and had been chair of the Advisory Committee on Tenure and Promotions; the Committee on Faculty Compensation; and the Policy, Planning and Budget Committee. He previously served as special assistant to the provost and associate dean of the faculty. And he was the 2007 recipient of the Helen Brooks Regan Faculty Leadership Award.

“Dirk earned the Regan award for his attitude of willingness to serve in any capacity needed by his colleagues,” said Roger Brooks, dean of the faculty. “We will miss his presence and wry humor, his historical memory and, most of all, his fearless intellect.”

“Dirk joined the faculty in 1971 and exemplified the College’s commitment to excellent teaching, research and shared governance,” said President Lee Higdon. “He was a true intellectual and dedicated leader whose record of service to the College stretches more than four decades. Dirk will be deeply missed by colleagues, students, alumni and staff.”

The College community will gather at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 27, in Harkness Chapel to remember Held.
Grief counseling is available for faculty and staff through the College’s Employee Assistance Program, which is operated by Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. Employees and members of their immediate families can call 860-536-4114 or 866-804-2273 to make a free, confidential appointment.

April 12, 2012

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