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Stanford Report, October 17, 2001

Scowcroft, former Creative Writing director, dead at 85


Richard P. Scowcroft, a professor emeritus of English and former director of the Creative Writing Program, died Oct. 8 at his home on the Stanford campus. He was 85.

Born in Ogden, Utah, Scowcroft earned a bachelor's degree in 1937 from the University of Utah. After traveling around the world for two years, he enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard, where he earned a master's degree (1941) and doctorate (1946) in English. He joined Stanford as an assistant professor of English in 1947.

Colleagues say Scowcroft contributed immensely to the development of the Creative Writing Program, where he served as associate director and then director after his friend and colleague Wallace Stegner retired in 1971. Scowcroft also served as chair of the English Department from 1976 to 1978.

"It should be said that whatever the writing program added to the English Department and the university was at least half his contribution," Stegner wrote in a 1979 English Department newsletter announcing Scowcroft's retirement.

While working on his doctorate Scowcroft wrote his first novel, Children of the Covenant (1945), which explores the conflict between Mormon heritage and contemporary society (the book created some controversy in Utah). Mormon themes reappeared in The Ordeal of Dudley Dean (1969), in which a father attempts to raise a son free of the religious and social attitudes that warped the father's youth. First Family (1950), Wherever She Goes (1966) and Back to Fire Mountain (1973) all deal with the illusions with which families attempt to maintain themselves. A View of the Bay (1955) focuses on a man's attempt to understand the suicide of a childhood friend apparently born to every advantage. Especially in the later novels, Scowcroft treated such serious themes with a comic approach.

During the last 15 years of his life, Scowcroft suffered from severe health problems. "Through it all, he kept up his interest in life and often acerbic wit," said Bliss Carnochan, the Richard W. Lyman Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus. "He was probably one of the strongest people I've ever run into. He had enormous resilience and courage."

Nancy Packer, the Melvin and Bill Lane Professor in the Humanities, Emerita, remembered him as "extremely witty and a marvelous raconteur."

"If you went to a party, you could find most of the people there trying to get up close to him," Packer said. "His books are very funny and touching at the same time. He was a terrific member of the department and a good citizen of the university."

Stegner's essay in the newsletter echoes many of the same sentiments.

"He related with the greatest ease to all the strata of the university community, for besides being bright, animated, amusing and interested in everything that moved, he possessed social feelers of the most acute sensibility," Stegner wrote. "He is a preeminently social animal, so genuinely interested in people that he becomes himself irresistibly attractive."

When author Scott Turow, who attended Stanford as a Mirrielees Fellow from 1970 to 1972 and taught here as a Jones Lecturer from 1972 to 1975, endowed the Richard Scowcroft Fellowship in Creative Writing, he said that not only is Scowcroft "a distinguished professor of English and a fine scholar, but his works, such as Back to Fire Mountain, have been undervalued. Above all, his gifts as a teacher of creative writing are beyond dispute. He knew exactly when to bring you yet closer to being a good writer."

Scowcroft's wife, Anne Kendall Scowcroft, who served as a part-time lecturer in English for many years, died in 1992 at the age of 77.

Scowcroft is survived by three sons: R. Mark Scowcroft of Washington, D.C.; Roger K. Scowcroft of Salt Lake City; and Philip H. Scowcroft of Middletown, Conn. He is also survived by two grandsons.

No services will be held, but a memorial is scheduled for January.

Donations may be made to the Richard Scowcroft Prize for Prose: Development Office, University of Utah, 201 President's Circle, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, or to Stanford University (in the check's "memo" section, write "Richard Scowcroft Fellowship, Creative Writing"): Stanford University, Attn: Memorial Gifts, 326 Galvez St., Stanford, CA 94305-6105.

Richard P. Scowcroft