Traister: University, students lose a ‘champion’

Dr. Lisa Zeitz, who died Saturday, joined the Department of English on July 1, 1989. She held a PhD from Queen’s University, an MA from the University of Virginia and a BA from Queen’s University. Her specialty was Restoration and 18th century English literature, with a particular interest in religious and intellectual history, narrative technique and landscape aesthetics.

Before joining Western’s faculty, Lisa held a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto, and won the highly prestigious Polanyi prize in 1989. She published articles in the journals Nineteenth-Century Literature, Eighteenth-Century Life, Studies in English Literature and many others.

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Her work has been characterized as “shrewd, sophisticated, and completely up to date … her writing is uniformly lucid and vigorous.”

These qualities also characterize Lisa’s work in the classroom.

Over the years, students have written enthusiastic letters of praise.

“She is, quite simply, one of the most outstanding and dedicated teachers I have ever encountered.”

“(She is) a consistently inspiring, passionate, professional and innovative scholar and teacher whose commitment to her work in all its various facets affects students both academically and personally.”

Lisa’s commitment to her students, especially at the undergraduate level, earned her accolades not merely on account of her dedication, but also on account of the demanding, rigorous and intellectually honest expectations she had for all of her students. Nobody ever got a free ride in her courses, and every grade her students earned was a true mark of achievement.

As a colleague, Lisa was a champion for the department and its faculty, to say nothing of the students at Western. One of the staunchest defenders of a degree in English, she steadfastly maintained her commitment to small classes, close engagement with both text and students and rigorous assessment of student work. Colleagues who strayed too creatively in these areas could rest assured they would be hearing shortly from Lisa.

But she always corrected us with principled arguments and wonderful humour. She was, quite simply, one of the wittiest people around, always ready with the quick reply and the self-deprecating comment. She had the gift of finding the absurd in the ordinary; the hilarity amidst the gravitas; and the unlikely comedy within even awful circumstances.

We have missed her for too long in English already; the London Knights have lost one of their most dedicated season-ticket holders; and the baseball playoffs are going to have to get along without Dr. Zeitz’s passionate and knowledgeable fandom – sadly, her beloved Toronto Blue Jays didn’t make it this year.

In an article published in the UWO Gazette shortly after her first hospitalization for cancer, Lisa  beautifully conveyed the style of her engagement: “I don’t know if there is anything more exciting than watching young women and men learning who they are, and exploring what they think, feel and believe.”

This commitment inspires us all today.

While our loss in English is significant, we offer our condolences and support to her spouse, Dr. Peter Thoms, also a longtime member of our department. Our thoughts are with him, and with Lisa’s family at this time.

Bryce Traister is chair of Western’s Department of English.