Arthur B. Coffin gave up the ghost on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. Nearly always hopeful, yet sometimes disappointed, he resolved early not to take life too seriously.
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Born April 24, 1929, in Berlin, N.H., to Dora B. and "Pat" Coffin, he was educated in the public schools there and later at the University of New Hampshire (B.A., 1951), Boston College (M.A., 1958), and the University of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1965). Dodging the draft upon being graduated from UNH, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After serving in the Supply Division on the USS Tripoli (CVE 64), he went to Officer Candidate School at Newport, R.I., and subsequently served as Damage Control Officer and, later, as Engineer Officer on the USS Glen non (DD 840). This naval duty took him to many places from Helsinki to Istanbul, as well as to the Caribbean. He concluded his Naval Reserve duty in 1973, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, USNR.
In 1956, Arthur married Gertrude Dupuis, also a native of Berlin, who brought encouragement and support for his plans to attend graduate school and to develop professionally. They had two daughters, Mary and Cathy. While he attended Boston College, Arthur taught in the Boston Public Schools system, and Gertrude worked for New England Tel & Tel. He next taught a year at the Stoneham, Mass., high school, moving then to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., before returning to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In 1965, Arthur, Gertrude, and Cathy moved to Pullman, Wash., where Arthur taught in the Department of English at Washington State University until 1972, when he accepted the headship of the Department of English at Montana State University at Bozeman. In Pullman, Gertrude worked in a bank, and she continued in that kind of employment in Bozeman until 1980.
After stepping down as department head in 1980, Arthur chaired the committee that designed the MSU Honors Program which he served as its first director. He was frequently invited to join accreditation teams for the Commission on Colleges of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. One of his greatest satisfactions was to serve as member and then chair of the Montana Committee for the Humanities. He also served as consultant for the National Endowment for the Humanities, as member of the Executive Board of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, as member of the Executive Board of the Association of Departments of English (a division of the Modern Language Association), and as member of the editorial boards of Emerson Society Quarterly and The Montana Professor. In addition, he served as member or chair of many MSU committees, as well as vice chair and chair of the MSU Faculty Council. Late in his teaching career, he turned somewhat from American Literature, his area of specialization, to tragedy which had become one of his favorite subjects. His publications ranged from various conference papers to articles in collections and encyclopedias to books (on Robinson Jeffers and tragedy). He won several teaching awards at MSU, including the Phi Kappa Phi Anna K. Fridley Distinguished Teacher Award in 1992, the year he retired from teaching.
In September 1992, however, Arthur was invited to return to MSU to serve as vice provost for Academic Affairs, an assignment he very much enjoyed until he retired again in 1995. He then devoted himself to various volunteer work. He served on the Board of Directors of the Friends of Montana PBS, winning, in 2004, the PBS national Elaine Peterson Distinguished Service Award. At home, he did freelance editorial consulting and some woodworking. He also served on the advisory board of the Robinson Jeffers Association. Having worked as a chauffeur at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, N.H., while an undergraduate, Arthur enjoyed driving which interest led him to serve as volunteer instructor for the AARP Driver Safety Program and as a volunteer driver in the Cancer Road to Recovery Program. He also drove for the Montana Import Group and Bozeman Audi.
His extramural activities took him to memberships on these additional boards of directors: Bozeman Area Chapter of American Heart Association, Mended Hearts (Bozeman), Montana Trout Foundation, Montana Council of Trout Unlimited, and the Madison-Gallatin Chapter of Trout Unlimited (president for two terms).
Once a member of his high school ski team and of the University of New Hampshire varsity ski team, Arthur all but required Gertrude and Cathy to join him on the ski slopes where he believed they spent many pleasant outings. While in Pullman, Arthur taught skiing to finance the family's skiing, and, when he arrived in Bozeman, he was a certified ski instructor. Soon, however, he rediscovered the joys of fly fishing for trout which he had not practiced since his youth in New Hampshire. He tied flies and made some of his fly rods; he occasionally he got into the water to test his skill. Although his friends and associates observed his efforts to cultivate a sense of humor, they detected little improvement. Almost too late, he discovered an enthusiasm and some aptitude for racquetball which he played as long as he could. For him, racquetball's confines and challenges became a paradigm of human existence.
He was preceded in death by the infant, Mary, and his beloved Cathy and Gertrude; he is survived by his brother, Chandler, of Beverly, Mass. Cremation has taken place. Memorials may be made in his name to the Montana State University Foundation, 1501 S. 11th Ave., Bozeman, MT 59717.
Funeral Mass will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 at Resurrection University Catholic Parish.
Condolences and memories may be shared with the family at www.dahlcares.com.
Dahl Funeral Chapel
300 Highland Boulevard
Bozeman, MT 59715
Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Nov. 21, 2013