BURTO--William Charles. William Charles Burto died peacefully in his sleep in Cambridge Massachusetts, on July 5, after five years of treatment for multiple myeloma. Born in North Creek, New York, in 1921, Burto graduated from Colgate University in 1942, where he had become a New York State Collegiate Champion skier. In his senior year he was accepted into Harvard's Ph.D. program in English literature, but upon receiving his undergraduate degree he immediately volunteered for service in the Navy. He saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific, surviving the sinking of his ship at Guadalcanal in 1943. (He was on the bridge of the ship, operating radar equipment, when a bomb killed the captain, a few yards away). At the end of World War II he entered the graduate program at Harvard, assisted by the G.I. Bill, but in 1948 he took a two-year leave of absence to teach English at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. He then returned to Harvard, completed his Ph.D. in 1954, and began teaching at Lowell State College, soon to become part of the University of Massachusetts, where he served as chair of the Department of English. In 1982 he retired. Burto was the co-author (with Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs) of several highly successful college textbooks on literature, drama, and composition. He was also the editor of the Signet Classic Edition of Shakespeare's sonnets (with an introduction by W.H. Auden) and of Shakespeare's narrative poems (with an introduction by William Empson). In 1963 he and Sylvan Barnet (his partner since 1952) became interested in Japanese art, especially early calligraphy and Buddhist art, and in subsequent years they assembled a collection that has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), the Metropolitan Museum, the Freer/Sackler Galleries, and the Harvard Art Museum. The Metropolitan exhibition was accompanied by a catalog, The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Painting (2002) by Miyeko Murase and others. As an octogenarian and then a nonagenarian he occasionally reflected on his life (especially his survival at Guadalcanal) and his imminent death; at such moments he always remarked that he had been extremely fortunate in being long-lived and very happy. A devoted gardener as well as a serious collector of art, he cherished lines by Walter Savage Landor (who lived a mere 89 years): "Nature I loved and, next to Nature, Art:/I warmed both hands before the fire of life;/It sinks, and I am ready to depart." William Burto is survived by Barnet, by a niece, Sheila Wilson, and by five Geraghty nephews, Elihu, Ennis, Jonathan, Kevin, and Sean. We wish to express our deepest gratitude to Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates and to VNA Care Network and Hospice for their unstinting tender support.
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Published in The New York Times on July 14, 2013