James H. Muir, 65, linguist, schoolteacher

January 22, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

James H. Muir, a poet, writer, linguist, semanticist and city schoolteacher who was known for inspiring his students in Shakespeare and English literature, died Jan. 12 of prostate cancer at his home in the Mount Vernon area Baltimore. He was 65.

Mr. Muir retired in 1993 from Western High School, where he had taught for 27 years. He started his career in the early 1960s at Hampstead Hill Junior High School, and taught later at the old Western High School on Centre Street, which moved to its Falls Road location in 1967.

Sandra L. Wighton, former Western principal and now Southeast Area assistant supervisor, said, "He was a genuine scholar without any of the affectation. He had a love for learning and he was able to mesmerize a class. His students were enthralled by his knowledge and love of knowledge."

Joan Sandler, a retired English teacher at the school, said, "Thousands of students came to know Mr. Muir as a man with an encyclopedic mind and piercing intellect. He was the teacher who could always identify the source of any quote and complete it. He enjoyed great respect from his students who on occasion would rise and applaud him at the end of a lesson."

A perfectionist who enjoyed the flow and rhythm of language, he was sought out by his colleagues as "the arbiter in every question of language, literature, usage and abstract grammatical points," Mrs. Sandler said.

Mr. Muir studied at Oxford University during the summers and taught at St. Edmund Hall at the university. He was also an expert on Charlotte Mew, a 20th-century English poet.

He was described by his longtime companion, William Richardson, as a voracious reader who would read 400 books a year. "He led a solitary life and lived for his books," Mr. Richardson said.

"He was blind in one eye and insisted on reading the 'Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language' while on his death bed."

He was also described by Mr. Richardson as being an "innuendoist," and one who enjoyed writing letters to the editor.

"He recently wrote a letter to the editor that read: 'Sirs: Recent pronouncements by Sen. Jesse Helms remind me that the weapon of choice of some persons and groups is still the jawbone of an ass,' " Mr. Richardson said.

Mr. Muir was born in Elwood City, Pa., and moved as a youngster to Florence, Colo., where his father, Hugh, was a judge, and his mother, Violet, a teacher. He was a graduate of local schools and earned his bachelor's degree from Colorado State University in 1952. He served in the Army from 1952 until his discharge in 1956.

Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.

He is survived by five sisters, Ann Etta Richter of Annapolis, Jean Pickering of Phoenix, Ariz., Isabel Chamblin of Albuquerque, N.M., Jean Rusk of Solbana, Alaska, and Mary Dilzer of Peru, N.Y.

Memorial donations may be made to the Western High School Library, 4600 Falls Road, Baltimore 21209.

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