AMHERST - Professor Emeritus of English, David T. Porter, 85, passed away Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, after cardiac arrest following a brief stay at Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
Born to Roy Avery Porter and Bertha Thomas Porter on a farm in Elba, one of the tiniest rural communities (pop. 500) in western New York state. David distinguished himself in sports and scholarship at Elba Central High School and Hamilton College before traveling as a young man to teach as head of the English department in the Lycee at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, and later making a career of international prominence as a distinguished academic in Arts and Letters. He was known worldwide as a leading scholar of Emily Dickinson, joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts, where he taught literature courses to generations of students.
For decades David Porter was closely involved with the Dickinson Homestead, and he organized the first Emily Dickinson International Symposium in 1980, leading to the establishment of the Emily Dickinson International Society that thrives today. He also organized the "legendary" 1986 Centennial Celebration of Dickinson and delivered the keynote speech, at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.
In 1957, David married Rosalie Pedalino of Orange, N.J. They lived in Istanbul, then moved to the United States where he earned his doctorate at the University of Rochester before relocating in Amherst in 1962, where they raised their three sons. Porter joined the English department faculty where he served until retirement. He published three very highly regarded scholarly works: "The Art of Emily Dickinson's Early Poetry" (1966), "Emerson and Literary Change" (1978) and "Dickinson: The Modern Idiom" (1981), all published by Harvard University Press, as well as many articles of literary criticism. U.S. Poet Laureate and Amherst College professor Richard Wilbur stated that Porter's writing "will force a reconsideration of Emily Dickinson, and it is so well argued and so full of brilliant analysis as to be largely incontrovertible."
With Amherst as a home base, the Porters have also maintained residences in Nantucket Island, and Singer Island, Fla., for many years. David Porter's scholarship afforded opportunities to lecture widely outside the U.S. under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. He was awarded Fulbright Lectureships (twice), a Guggenheim Fellowship, a residency as senior research fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and was a Resident Scholar at the Rockefeller Research Institute at Bellagio, Italy. During his career, Porter taught at the University of Catania, Sicily, Italy, Keele University and the University of Kent, both of England. He received the Faculty Award for Distinguished Research and Scholarship at UMass in 1986, and an Honorary Doctorate at Hamilton College, his alma mater, where he delivered the 1992 commencement address.
Dickinson scholar and longtime friend Polly Longsworth said of David, "But for you, I would not know Dickinson… without your books I couldn't begin to understand her mind." Although he traveled the world as a lover of arts, opera, museums and galleries, he dearly loved the town of Amherst, which he called "the Center of Wisdom." One of David's happy accomplishments was to welcome the U.S. Postmaster General to Amherst on Aug. 28, 1971, for a ceremony at Amherst College's Johnson Chapel to commemorate the first day issue of a new Emily Dickinson 8-cent stamp. Porter spoke before the Postmaster, noting that Emily had referred in her poetry to 17 instances of a letter being sent, but only six times to a letter being successfully delivered or received.
Notwithstanding his crash-landing a small aircraft on the family farm at age 15, Porter served in the Naval Air Corps in Pensacola, Fla., and later in the Army 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" at Fort Jackson, S.C.
In Professor Porter's efforts to invigorate the minds of others, he never neglected to touch their hearts. David loved most to do things with and for his family, and to encourage them to their fullest potential in their productive and creative pursuits. He was a dedicated and loving husband, a caring, supportive father and a devoted, inspiring grandfather. He is survived by his sister Margery Porter Philipp of Amelia Island, Fla., along with his devoted wife of 56 years, Rosalie Pedalino Porter, Ed.D., his children and their partners, Thomas (Lisa Perlbinder), David (Sally Cooney) and Stephen (Edward Lee), and grandchildren David Gamliel, Carley Porter, Addison Gamliel, Emily Porter and Finn Cooney Porter.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Dec. 7, at 4 p.m., at the South Congregational Church in South Amherst.
Donations in David Thomas Porter's memory and in honor of his work may be made to the Emily Dickinson Museum, 280 Main St., Amherst, MA 01002.
Obituary and memorial register at www.douglassfuneral.com.
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Douglass Funeral Home
87 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Nov. 19, 2013