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Richard Davison in a 2005 photo
Allan Davison, professor emeritus of English who taught at the
University of Delaware for 36 years, passed away peacefully at home on
Jan. 19, 2023. He was 88.
A scholar of American
literature, Dr. Davison joined the Department of English in 1968 and
served as associate chair of the department from 1969-74. In 2001, he
became affiliated with the University Honors Program, and that year he
also received the College of Arts and Sciences Teaching Award. Retiring
in 2004, he continued to be active at the University, and he also gave
many readings and talks on a variety of writers and on theatre
throughout the state.
The University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press is the home of
two named collections that were gifts of Dr. Davison and his wife,
Milena Davison. The first is a collection of approximately 900 playbills
the couple acquired through their attendance at plays, musicals and
one-person shows over several decades. The playbills represent a wide
variety of performances held in American, Canadian and British venues. A
large number of the performances featured in the collection were staged
by the Resident Ensemble Players at UD. The second is a smaller
literary collection including material related to Arthur Miller, David
Mamet, Neil Simon, Edward Albee, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Anderson,
W.D. Snodgrass and others.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Dr. Davison speaks at a 2011 UD symposium celebrating the life and
poetry of the late W.D. Snodgrass, who was Distinguished Professor of
Creative Writing at UD from 1980-94.
Several of Dr. Davison’s friends and colleagues from the Department of English shared their memories of him.
Tom Pauly, professor emeritus: “Years ago when I first arrived
at UD as a young assistant professor, Dick Davison was the associate
chair and one of the first to welcome me. At that time and for many
years afterwards, he was a major force in making the English department
the friendly place that it was. He was not just a passionate scholar of
American literature, but a special enthusiast of the whole University.
This enthusiasm spurred him to purchase and inhabit a house located a
single block from the campus. As much as he loved the peaceful communal
atmosphere of Newark, he possessed a unique appreciation for its easy
access to New York City. He regularly commuted there to see a staggering
range of plays. He could always tell you which one of recent
productions was worth seeing and over the years became a true authority
on postwar New York theatre. This range of interest developed him into
an avid collector of first editions of American authors. Dick Davison
will be long remembered as a valued contributor to the vitality of the
English department and the University.”
Jeanne Walker, professor emeritus: “Dick was a generous and
welcoming colleague to me as a new member of the English department
during the mid 1970s when the English department was quickly trying to
add women to a primarily male faculty. It was a challenging time. Dick
stopped by my office occasionally with cheer and news and kind offers of
help. Several years later, we both led groups of Winter Session
students to London, and we sometimes collaborated, sharing speakers or
group trips to the theatre. I remember one January when I arrived in
London after a seven hour overnight flight during which I did not sleep,
I discovered that our broker had sent me the wrong key to a flat I had
rented. I slogged around London, finally found the address of the flat
and the key didn't work. Locked out, and unable to rouse the broker, I
gave Dick a call in his new flat. We went off to lunch together, had a
hilarious time talking and exchanging stories, and afterward things fell
into place. He was like that, always lively, always generous, always
there with good stories and often he helped to make things better.”
Julian Yates, H. Fletcher Brown Professor: “While I didn’t
know Dick hugely well, I remember him as a lovely person. It’s hard to
imagine a more genial, supportive presence, always delighted to hear
good news for and about others and unflaggingly supportive/engaged in
theatre on campus, then the Professional Theatre Training Program
Ben Yagoda, professor emeritus: “When I came to the department
in the early ‘90s as a sort of minnow out of water (a mid-career
journalist and freelance writer with no Ph.D.), pretty much everybody
was welcoming, but no one more than Dick. I can’t remember our first
encounter, though I’m sure he made the overture. Soon we were having
lengthy conversations in Memorial Hall about Hemingway, FITZgerald (he
emphasized the first syllable), Salinger and John Updike, whom he
resembled more and more as the years passed. (Memorably, he was once
mistaken for the author at an Updike conference.) We started regularly
going out to lunch together, and I actually still remember some of the
conversations we had — about the Mets, about our research, about his
early years teaching at Gettysburg College, about plays one or both of
us had seen the previous week or in 1966, about both our families — on
the walk up to Main Street and our usual spot, Salad Works. Over the
years, it was my great good fortune to get to know [his wife] Milena a
little bit, and my wife and I greatly enjoyed lunches at the Davisons’
house followed by a play by the Resident Ensemble Players. (In almost
every case, Dick had already seen the play but was happy to go again.)
They were a wonderful match, as Milena had and has a complementary
spirit, intelligence and spark. When I think of Dick, it is always and
absolutely an image of him with a delighted smile on his face. He is
either sharing some experience or observation he knows I will be
interested in, or expressing deep interest in and curiosity about
something I’ve experienced or said. It’s a good and comforting image,
but of course no substitute for the real Dick.”
Lois Potter, professor emeritus: "Richard Davison was always
eager to talk about theatre and knew an enormous amount about the
American stage. We often had lively conversations about the New York
scene and about the PTTP., which we both loved. He and Milena were a
delightful couple to be around."
Dr. Davison in a 1983 photo, courtesy of University Archives and Records Management
in Montréal, Canada, Dr. Davison earned his bachelor’s degree at
Middlebury College, his master’s degree at the University of Rochester
and his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Before
joining UD, he taught at Gettysburg College and Seattle University and
was a visiting professor at Washington College and at universities in
Essen and Cologne, Germany. While at Seattle University, he was the
director of the English Graduate Program and wrote and hosted 39
episodes of a television series, Literature and Life, in 1966.
Dr. Davison was the author of numerous articles on such figures as
Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Stephen Crane, Hart Crane,
Fitzgerald, Robert Penn Warren, Steinbeck, Albee, Salinger, and
Hemingway. A member of the Hemingway Society and the Fitzgerald
Society, he was a past president of the Frank Norris Society and
published articles and books on Frank, Charles, and Kathleen Norris.
The John Updike Society, of which he was a charter member, posted a memorial to Dr. Davison shortly after his death. The tribute
notes Dr. Davison’s resemblance to Updike and recalls that he enjoyed
telling the story of when they first met. Updike joked that it was “like
looking in a mirror.” The article also salutes Dr. Davison as “the
embodiment of the ‘gentleman scholar,’ who enjoyed talking about
literature and was always gracious.”
A passionate theatergoer from the time he saw his first Broadway show, The Music Man,
in 1958, Dr. Davison was an enthusiastic audience member, scholar,
dramaturg and corresponded with many great theatre artists. He coedited
two books on theatre with Jackson Bryer, The Actor’s Art and The Art of the American Musical, which features interviews with 18 leading composers, choreographers, producers and directors, including UD alumna Susan Stroman.
Dr. Davison is survived by his wife of 48 years, Milena (Taychman)
Davison; children, Heather Davison (Julian), Gregory Davison and Anne
Davison (Amy); and one grandchild, Moth.
A celebration of his life will be held this spring.
Donations in Dr. Davison’s memory may be made to the University of
Delaware Library, Special Collections, Office of Development and Alumni
Relations, 83 East Main St., Third Floor, Newark, DE 19716-2128. Please
include “Special Collections” on the memo line.
To read his complete obituary or leave online condolences, visit Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Homes.