I went to a memorial for University of Wyoming professor Robert “Bob” Torry yesterday evening. It was very moving. His friends and fellow professors eulogized his life, telling stories funny and sad. Bob was only 62 but had walked with a cane for a number of years. He died of ALS.
Bob taught film and modern poetry, and you could tell that he loved both. I took Modern Poetry, Science Fiction and Horror Film, and Western Film from him. He was also briefly my advisor.
His film classes were much in demand. They were taught in the Classroom Building, with 100 or 150 participants, so it was very much like going to movies. You’d sit in the dark and watch Nosferatu or The Day the Earth Stood Still or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Then Bob would draw out the political and social climate of the film, what sort of message the film was sending, what the ending meant, maybe how it harkened to a simpler time or yearned for traditional values. Bob made a class of 150 feel like a class of 25. He led discussions during class time ~ can you imagine, with cosy 150? He was my great friend Jessica’s thesis advisor, who has published a book on slasher films based on that thesis. He himself published on film and religion, among other things.
Bob was a very supportive person. Two women professors, making a joke about how students perceived female professors versus male professors, once put a sign on their doors that said, “If you want a mother, go see Bob Torry.” It was not only a social critique but also a tribute to Bob’s nature.
Yet, as I write this, I see all the absences in Bob’s life. He obviously loved kids. He would talk to all the other professors’ and grad students’ kids. But I don’t believe he had any of his own. I think the first and only time he got married was late in life to a wonderful woman named Kerry who is also part of the English Department, and that was just a few years ago.
And his poetry. He loved poetry. He LOVED poetry. I took a Modern Poetry class from him, and you could see that he loved it and he wanted you to love it too. And apparently he wrote poetry ~ wonderful poetry by all accounts. I’ve never read it, however, and you can’t either. He never published any of it. Editors had actually asked him to send them some, but he wouldn’t.
To me, that is the saddest part (besides, obviously, losing Bob himself). Selfishly, I think: there could have been this beautiful part of him left to us. Why didn’t he? Lack of confidence? He didn’t think he was any good? That would be a distinct possibility ~ if your comparing yourself to the masters, of course your stuff looks like crap. It is deeply troubling.
All I can say is that I wish he had. Knowing Bob, we’re missing some delicately witty and deeply moving work.