Colby and the Waterville community mourn the death of Douglas N. Archibald, Roberts Professor of English, emeritus, who also served as vice president and dean of faculty from 1982 to 1988. He died at home in Waterville Nov. 13, 2020. Archibald came to Waterville from Cornell University in 1973 when he was chosen in a national search for an English Department chair.
He was a nationally and internationally known scholar and editor whose academic work focused on modern Irish literature and culture, in particular W.B. Yeats, Seamus Heany, Eavan Boland, William Trevor, and Michael Longley. At Colby, he taught and wrote about 18th- and 20th-century British literature and culture and about Irish studies.
Colleagues remember him as a popular professor, a gifted teacher and lecturer, and an unflappable administrator who led through consultation and consensus building. “He was a great [English Department] chair,” said Dana Professor of Creative Writing, Emerita, Susan Kenney. “He was the best.”
Archibald spent 10 years on the faculty at Cornell, and Kenney was a graduate student who worked with him there. She said he was eager to move from the big university setting to Maine in the 1970s, and that his parents lived in China, Maine, and his father worked at Keyes Fibre at the time. “His administrative experience at Cornell made him a very attractive candidate in our national search for a new English chair,” she said. “He had a plan to bring Colby’s English Department together. He held a series of meetings that really changed the atmosphere of the department and brought younger and older colleagues together. … He had a way to make things happen through diplomacy and not by fiat.”
In 1982 President William Cotter tapped Archibald as dean of faculty. College Historian Earl Smith wrote in Mayflower Hill: A History of Colby College that “Archibald’s natural instincts and good humor enabled him to coalesce the faculty around prickly issues to heal bruised egos after the frays.”
Archibald’s seven years as chief academic officer saw study-abroad opportunities expand significantly while the on-campus curriculum was likewise strengthened. As dean, Archibald succeeded in growing the overall number of faculty and beginning to balance gender scales and make small inroads in expanding the numbers of faculty of color, Smith wrote.
“He was a gifted teacher, and he was an excellent chair of the department and dean,” said John Sweney, NEH/Class of 1941 Distinguished Teaching Professor of Humanities, emeritus. “He had a sense of humor. He was modest. He was fair and democratic,” Sweney said, adding that those qualities, on display in his work as department chair, probably led to his selection as dean of faculty. Sweney called the latter role “a very, very difficult job because it entails telling a lot of people ‘no.’ He was an admirable dean.”
In addition to his teaching and administrative leadership, Archibald curated the library’s Healy Collection of Modern Irish Literature for four years and edited the Colby Quarterly from 1986 through 2004. A prestigious journal focused on literary scholarship, the Quarterly expanded its range of contributors and the breadth of its content under Archibald.
Archibald was born in New York City April 20, 1933, and grew up in Rye, N.Y. He graduated from Vermont Academy in 1951 and from Dartmouth College in 1955. He spent three years in the Air Force as a photo-radar intelligence officer before pursuing graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where he earned his Ph.D.
Anti-war activities remained a thread through his adult life, from supporting and advising students who resisted the draft during the Vietnam War to teach-ins and walks for peace in Waterville opposing American involvement in wars in the Mideast in this century.
He retired from Colby in 2004 after 31 years as a teacher and administrator. He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Emerita Professor of Religious Studies Debra Campbell, and five children including Michael Archibald ’87 and Timothy Archibald ’88 as well as his first wife, Marie Thurber Carleton ’87, and a grandchild, Nicholas Archibald ’17.
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Margaret McFadden, in announcing Archibald’s death to the faculty, wrote, “He was a deeply respected, admired, and beloved teacher and a kind, compassionate, and generous colleague. He will be greatly missed by the many students, faculty, staff, and alumni who benefited from his brilliant teaching, mentorship, and friendship over many years. And Colby is a better place for the many leadership roles he played here over the course of his career.”