John Wyatt


At Beloit College’s baccalaureate service at Eaton Chapel on May 11, 1991, the first day Linda and I were in Beloit, the speaker, John Wyatt, arrived late. Slightly disheveled, he dashed down the center aisle, leapt onto the stage, and gave an address we will never forget.

He said, “They will tell you college is not the real world. They will tell you the real world is where important things happen. What they call the real world is where you worry about your mortgage and car payments. College is where you think about truth, justice, and beauty; the life of the mind. I tell you that is the real world; that is where important things happen.” That day, John touched our lives for the first time, just as he had touched the lives of so many students.

One afternoon, a year or two later, my oldest son was sitting on the front steps of Chapin House (the President’s House) when John Wyatt walked by. John had never met Chris, but he stopped and said to him, “I know what you need.” Chris said, “What?” John said, “To learn Greek.” Chris said, “OK,” and weekly Greek lessons with John began, followed by reading the Russian classics with John and learning Russian with professor Olga Ogurtsova, arranged by John. This led, to make a long story short, to Chris moving to Moscow and becoming a translator for a Russian English-language news service. John changed Chris’ life.

John and Chantal were private people. You rarely found them at big parties or social gatherings. Many at Beloit had never met Chantal. But eating Sunday supper with Linda and me at the kitchen counter in Chapin House, they were the brightest, most vivacious, engaging companions imaginable.

Linda and I bought John and Chantal’s farm in Spring Valley, 20 miles from the College, where they had raised and home-schooled their three children. We bought the farm at auction, which two of the Wyatt children attended to support us. They didn’t want the hunters who were bidding against us to get the farm. Chantal gave us French curtain material she had been saving. We got to know John in a different way through the stories told at Sather’s filling station in nearby Orfordville about “that fellow with all the books in the back seat of his car.”

When I retired, instead of going back East, we stayed on at Spring Valley Farm, which we had come to love. John changed our lives, too.

John was a writer and a scholar, but above all, he was a teacher—a magnificent, inspiring teacher. He taught undergraduates at Beloit, graduate students at the University of Chicago, scholars at Taliesin, and dying AIDS victims in a Los Angeles clinic. With the support of Beloit’s eighth president, Roger Hull, he and Betty Tardola created a program to teach Latin—Latin!—to disadvantaged fifth graders. He believed nothing is more important than helping children flourish and grow in the lives of their minds.

John was not interested in, and not much good at, committee work and other administrative tasks. He was such an extraordinary and creative teacher, however, it seemed to me—although not to everyone—that this limitation should be forgiven. Great teaching, after all, is what a great liberal arts college is all about.

Linda and I miss John Wyatt although, truth be told, we sometimes are sure we see him rummaging through the library at Spring Valley Farm, looking for the volume of Chekhov plays he misplaced.


John Wyatt, one of Beloit’s most influential and beloved teachers, taught classics from 1970 to 1996. He died on June 27, 2008. Victor E. Ferrall, Jr. served as Beloit College’s ninth president from 1991 to 2000.

Published in Beloit College magazine.

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An unbelievably fantastic professor at Beloit College. Thank you.