William R. Mueller, 83, Humanities Institute founder, author, cleric

March 31, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William Randolph Mueller, Humanities Institute founder and former chairman of Goucher College's English department, died Wednesday of a stroke at Roland Park Place. He was 83.

In 1972, after a lengthy stint teaching English literature to college undergraduates, he struck out on his own and founded the Humanities Institute, a continuing-education program initially tailored to women who had finished raising their families. His eight-week courses flourished for 15 years here and are offered as literary seminars in England, Scotland and Ireland.

"He was an exceptionally good writer and well-organized person," said Brooke Pierce, a Goucher colleague and friend of long standing. "He was much admired for his ideas and his projects. He liked to be doing things."

Trained as a philosopher, clergyman and literary historian, he wrote on John Donne, Edmund Spenser, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet, as well as the existentialist thinkers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

He used his divinity degree to fill in as a summertime preacher.

Dr. Mueller wrote numerous essays for The Sun, including a 1979 recollection of Baltimore baseball in the 1920s:

"I don't know precisely when my father first took me to Oriole Park, that fine, reassuringly simple wooden structure at York Road (now Greenmount avenue) at 29th street. I do know that its neat, white pentagonal, peak-roofed booths sitting in a row were for me the keys to the kingdom. And I know that the Park's burning in 1944, more massive and awe-inspiring than the epic funeral pyres of Aeneas or Beowulf, was a devastatingly traumatic experience from whose scars I have yet to recover."

Born in Baltimore, he was raised on Northfield Place in Roland Park. He attended Friends School and the Gilman School, where he was awarded the Fisher Medallion prize as a senior in 1935.

He received a bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University in 1939 before obtaining a doctorate in literature at Harvard University. After a year as a visiting fellow at the Yale School of Divinity, he also received a master's in theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

Having taught at Williams College, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he joined the Goucher College faculty in 1960 and remained there until 1972. He was twice chairman of the English department.

Among the works he wrote were "The Prophetic Voice in Modern Fiction," "Celebration of Life, Studies in Modern Fiction," "John Donne: Preacher," "The Testament of Samuel Beckett," written with poet Josephine Jacobsen, and "Ionesco and Genet, Playwrights of Silence," also written with Jacobsen.

He was an ordained Congregationalist minister. He served several summers as seasonal pastor of Roland Park Presbyterian Church and the Monticello Church in Browns Summit, N.C.

During World War II he joined the Navy and taught English at the Naval Academy. He also served as a college instructor in a military installation in Crete, Neb. and was then sent to Seattle as a gunnery instructor.

Family members said he had never picked up a BB gun before this assignment. To get through the task, he assigned a bright member of his class to give the lessons.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, the former Frances Heckathorne, former Bryn Mawr School English department head.

A memorial service will be held at 3: 30 p.m. today at Roland Park Place, 830 W. 40th St.

He also is survived by a son, William Mueller of Arlington, Mass.; two daughters, Martha B. Mueller of Cambridge, Mass., and Mary H. Mueller of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

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