February 8, 2019
John Peter Kent, a former English professor at the University of Michigan, died Jan. 29 at Wellington at Hershey’s Mills assisted living facility in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He was 87.
Kent was born in London, England, on Nov. 5, 1931. He was the only child of Alfred and Lavinia Kent. His mother died soon after his birth, and he lived with his maternal grandparents, Henry and Lavinia Nottage, until his father married Margaret M. Conroy five years later.
As a child, Peter was an avid Boy Scout. A city kid, he loved the exposure to nature that camping provided. World War II began in Europe in 1939 when he was 8 years old. The Blitz was a daily fact of life when he was 9 and 10. At 11 he won a scholarship to the prestigious St. Olave’s and St. Saviour’s Grammar School for Boys. He was proud of being an “Old Olavian” and often spoke fondly of his school days.
After two years in the British Army, rising to the rank of sergeant, he attended the University of Southampton, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. He traveled to the United States to attend Johns Hopkins University, where he received his master's degree, and the University of Illinois, where he received his Ph.D. in English. His specialty was 18th century English literature. He eventually became a U.S. citizen.
While he was teaching English at a French boys’ school, Kent met an American librarian, Joann G. Roberts, while she was working at Braccone Army Depot, near Angouleme. They married in London in 1957.
Kent’s love for literature and teaching formed the basis of a career lasting more than 30 years as a university professor. He taught for seven years in the Department of English at U-M in Ann Arbor. A daughter, Melissa, was born there in 1969. In 1972, the family moved to Exton, Pennsylvania, where Kent began a long career at West Chester State College, later West Chester University. He retired in 2001.
He loved eating oysters and drinking wine, sitting around a campfire and singing raunchy songs, playing squash with his friend Mike Peich, hiking the Appalachian Trail, sailing in deep water. In his later years, he and Joann traveled extensively. He took courses in celestial navigation and Italian. He was the faithful walker and companion of several setters: Sally, Tessie, Britta and Aggie. He was the best dad in the world.
Kent is survived by his wife Joann Kent of West Chester, Pennsylvania; daughter Melissa (Wayne) Simms of Montgomery, Alabama; and granddaughter Leah E. Simms of Montgomery, Alabama.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Neighborhood Hospice, 400 E. Marshall St. West Chester, Pennsylvania, 19380.
— Written by Melissa Kent Simms