Obituary — H. Don Cameron


H. Don Cameron, professor emeritus of classical studies, died July 17.

Born Aug. 8, 1934, in Pontiac, Michigan, Don spent almost his entire academic life at the University of Michigan, receiving his A.B. in 1956 and beginning his first faculty position in 1959, while still in graduate school at Princeton, where he completed his Ph.D. in 1962.

H. Don Cameron
H. Don Cameron

Following promotions in 1964 and 1967, he became professor in 1978, ultimately retiring in 2010.

Of central importance to Don were the twin joys of amassing an eclectic body of knowledge that was as broad as it was deep, and sharing both the knowledge and the joy as an inseparable whole.

The number of subjects that Don knew in great depth seemed endless, and attached to each one of them was a raft of often humorous anecdotes about people and events. He carried his profound erudition lightly, yet also with a certain aplomb; he fooled no one when he called himself “a bear with very little brain.”

The dozens of his former students, some going back decades, who returned to campus to surprise him on his final day teaching Great Books in 2010 — a program he had famously taught in since the 1960s and became the head of in 1983 — attest to the lasting impact of his ability to share wisdom in life-enriching ways.

Don had two intellectual passions on which he published, classics and zoology. His monograph on Aeschylus, “Studies on the Seven Against Thebes of Aeschylus,” his articles on Greek and Roman drama, and his masterful student commentary on the first book of Thucydides’ history showcase his gifts as a learned and perceptive reader of classical literature and an expert exegete.

His other career as a zoologist, which garnered him a curatorship at the Museum of Zoology in 1974, encompassed arachnology, cladistics and biological nomenclature. It also resulted in several articles and culminated in “An Etymological Dictionary of North American Spider Genus Names.”

Hidden behind the (probably to many) dry-sounding subject is a glittering tapestry of astonishing intellectual-history sleuthing, linguistics, classics, history, literature and fondness for understanding personalities past and present.             

But perhaps the single most important thing Don did was teach. He was awarded multiple teaching prizes at both the institutional and national levels, including a Class of 1923 Teaching Award in 1965, the American Philological Association’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at the Collegiate Level in 1987, and an Arthur F. Thurnau professorship in 1992.

He was equally at home mesmerizing the crowd in the large-lecture setting of Great Books and quietly engaged in one-on-one instruction, spending countless hours reading all manner of texts with students in his office.

Teaching also included training the graduate students who taught sections in Great Books. Hundreds of young instructors went out into the world indelibly influenced by his tutelage. 

We will sorely miss Don’s zest for life, his wit and his learning, but he can live on in the model he set for us to follow: constantly expanding his own mind as much as others’, nurturing students, mentoring young colleagues, selflessly giving of himself and his time, and loyally maintaining lifelong friendships.

A memorial service is scheduled for Oct. 9 at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor. Read a longer memorial to Don Cameron on the Department of Classical Studies website.

— Submitted by Ben Fortson


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