Professor to leave lasting legacy at Washington & Jefferson College

May 16, 2014
Richard Easton delivers his retirement speech. Listening on stage are Washington & Jefferson College President Tori Haring-Smith, Dean of Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs John Zimmerman and Education Department Chairman James Longo. - Photo courtesy of Washington & Jefferson College

Richard Easton and his wife, Patricia Harrison Easton, beamed when they discussed the last 40 years they’ve spent together, most of it at Washington & Jefferson College.

“It’s impossible to have had better lives than us,” Patricia Easton said. “And part of that is this place.”

Sitting in the law library inside Old Main, the Peters Township couple said they’ve spent several days reflecting on and celebrating their journey together. On April 29, at First Presbyterian Church in Washington, Easton gave his final lecture as a W&J professor. He was among seven retiring faculty members that were given such an opportunity.

Over the last three years, Easton has gradually stepped back from his role at the college. While he intended to focus his free time on other endeavors, like co-writing nonfiction novels for young adults with his wife, Easton will now focus his time on continued development and directing of a new concentration at W&J.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a four-year DuPont Fellow at the University of Virginia, Easton joined the college in the early 1970s as a rhetoric and composition professor with the English department. Over the years, he taught a variety of courses, but wanted to focus his final courses on conflict and resolution. A child of World War II, Easton said war and conflict were prevalent throughout life until his 30s.

“It’s the history of my youth,” he said. “I’ve always looked for order. I could find it in the classical world.”

Wanting to do something that would offer solutions to violence and conflict, Easton decided to offer an integrated conflicts and resolutions course.

The course, which featured lecture events and a film series, eventually blossomed into a concentration. Close to $70,000 has already been raised to support the program. The concentration will be available for the 2014-15 school year.

During his final lecture, Easton talked about his time with W&J, meeting his wife on campus – she was one of his students – and his reasoning for starting the new concentration.

Former student and friend Emily Peters attended his final lecture. She said the experience was bittersweet.

“It’s amazing to think of his lasting legacy with the college,” Peters, who graduated in 2003, said. “He is a great teacher that cares about his students beyond graduation.”

Peters, who serves as the director of development at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, said Easton inspired his students to “learn and pursue their own passions in the world.”

“I choose to work in education because of my experiences at W&J,” she said.

And while Easton closed one chapter of his life, the 73-year-old has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. The couple still plan to travel, spend quality time with friends and family and, of course, continue their involvement with the college. Among other things, Patricia Easton is an adjunct professor in the elementary education department. At 63, she has no plans of retiring yet.

“We’ve had a wonderful and rewarding life,” she said.

“Retirement is a lifelong lesson,” her husband added. “This has been an exciting period.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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