John C. Coldewey
1944 - 2017
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John C. Coldewey

June 13, 1944-November 15, 2017

John was a scholar, teacher and adventurer with an infectious zest for life. Born in Beloit, WI to George and Frances (McLoughlin) Coldewey, he received his B.A. at Lewis College, his M.A. at Northern Illinois University, and his Ph.D. at the University of Colorado. At the completion of his degree in 1972, he accepted a position in the English Department of the University of Washington where he remained for his 38-year scholarly career, focusing his scholarship and teaching on Medieval and Renaissance drama and Shakespeare. Professor Coldewey retired in 2010 as Professor Emeritus. An internationally-recognized expert on English medieval drama and the civic records that pertain to plays performed in various medieval English cities, he is the author of several books and dozens of scholarly articles on this topic, as well as other articles on Shakespeare and the history of drama. A charismatic and well-loved teacher, he was also a sought-after speaker at scholarly conferences. He taught in London for UW, and savored every visit to that city. For ten years he was the editor of Modern Language Quarterly and was active and held office in numerous scholarly societies such as the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society, and the Friends of UW Library-a particular favorite of his.

An avid and adrenalin-loving sportsman all his life, John excelled at tennis, sailboat racing, mountaineering, rock climbing, triathlons and marathon running, road cycling, mountain biking, and skiing. He was always pushing himself to go farther and faster. Awestruck at seeing the Rockies after arriving in Colorado from the flat Midwest, he first explored rock-climbing during his time at the University of Colorado. In his years as a serious climber, John scaled Mt. McKinley, Mt. Blanc, all the snow giants and summited many peaks in the Rockies, Cascades and Olympics. He was a member of that closed club of those who had climbed Mt. St. Helens BEFORE it blew. And, for those who knew him well, John was an endless font of expertise in building and home improvements as well as bicycle repair. While he was teaching at UW, John and two friends, Joe Peterson and Jim Webster, formed "The OGRES" [Old Guys Riding Early], and rose at dawn daily to cycle down Lake Washington Blvd and around Seward Park. Because he was typically late, a 5-minute rule had to be instituted for John, so he would arrive on time--or the group would leave without him. He cycled in Provence with Joe and Jim and other bicycle (and wine) enthusiasts. After his retirement from teaching, John returned to his love of adventure with a vengeance. Along with a group of cyclists, he rode a mountain bike for six weeks on the Carreterra Austral along the spine of the Andes through Patagonia; with another group, he cycled coastal roads around the entire island of Taiwan; he and friend Ray Studebaker cycled the pilgrimage route following the Camino de Santiago in Spain, from Leon to San Juan de Santiago in Compostela. A sixteen-day whitewater rafting expedition on the Colorado River including camping and hiking in the Grand Canyon began a trip that ended with a less strenuous detour to Sedona with his wife to see rock formations and glyphs. Characteristically, he became a ski instructor at Snoqualmie so that he could improve his skiing. On good snow days, John savored skiing at Crystal Mountain and meeting his pals at "The Snorting Elk" for a beer and a recap of the day's runs.

John discovered late in life the joys of swimming in the Atlantic in E. Matunuck, Rhode Island with the Rose family, and prepared "beer-can chicken" for that group and others, if you were lucky. Sharing his life with rescued greyhounds was also a late and fine surprise for him. He could finish 6-star Sudokus with ease; he relished a game of "Words with Friends." He collected Northwest art. He was always ready to pack his bag for camping, a short road trip or a prolonged overseas jaunt. With Christine Rose, his wife, fellow medievalist, and partner of over 30 years, John travelled extensively in the U.S. and Europe, especially England, Poland, France, Austria and Italy, but they had plenty of places yet to see or revisit when John's illness forced him to cancel travel plans. They loved Iceland! And they loved books. Their last trip was to E. Europe along the Danube in May, and was as perfect a final journey as could be, since John was not yet too weak from cancer treatments to enjoy wine, sightseeing, medieval castles and being with Christine on yet another adventure.

As bravely as he faced his outdoor exploits in the mountains, John faced cancer and all the losses it meant for him. He died in Seattle with his wife and sons at his bedside. John is survived by his wife Christine, his sons, Devin and Christopher (Beth), and three grandsons; sisters Kathleen Thomsen and Susan McPherron, and brother Michael Coldewey. He was preceded in death by his brother George Coldewey. John packed a lot of living into his 73 years, and his bright light, stunning smile, and verve will be sorely missed not only by his wife and family, but also by a large group of friends old and new who shared his interests and listened to his jokes, and made his final days more joyful by visiting him while he was in hospice at the Kline Galland Home. Contributions in John's memory may be made to the University of Washington Library, or to the Seattle Animal Shelter. There will be a memorial service for John in a year, but not during ski season. His website may be viewed at

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Published in The Seattle Times on Dec. 17, 2017.
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10 entries
July 14, 2018
When I consider all of the teachers I have had throughout my education, Professor Coldewey stands out as the best. He was so passionate and joyful yet he demanded excellence and much effort of us. He somehow was able to create lectures that were academically challenging and very, very fun. He was also modest and gracious. When I saw him at a garden store many years after graduation, I approached him to say thank you for being such a great teacher. His warmth and genuine interest in my life were touching. The conversation was supposed to be about him and his unforgettable courses, but he had many questions for me. He was a remarkable person, and it was an honor to have him as a teacher.
Cheryll McCain
June 27, 2018
I just found out that Professor Coldeway passed away or I would have posted something earlier. I took at least two classes from John in the '90s. He was learned, enthusiastic, and kind. He helped me find my passion and want to become a teacher. He was always more than willing to visit during office hours and seemed genuinely interested in spending time with his students. He will be missed.
Paul Plank
June 26, 2018
"Just when in England is there a drought in March that April rain's need to pierce?" After making the entire class memorize the introduction to Cantebury Tales and come to his office one by one to recite it in front of him, he then asked us: "well what does it mean?" It was the beginning of a great undergraduate course.
Before taking his class I had met Dr. Coldewey at our common friend Bill Matchett's home on the Hood Canal a few years earlier. I was one of those students who took a gap year of sorts that involved studying in England, ski bumming in Chamonix, teaching English in Japan, and then buying and remodeling a house before finally returning to the UW to finish my last few remaining credits.
I've probably got this ditty of his a little wrong but in his office hours when he mentioned his pedagogical style he said "whenever I find myself in a situation where the class room is just not very animated I usually just start talking about something that I'm currently interested in and if that doesn't work to pick up the energy of the room it at least makes me feel better."
Sorry we couldn't have shared some turns together John.
Gary Vasseur
Gary Vasseur
June 26, 2018
I loved the medieval drama course from John Condewey during my graduate years at UW (PhD 1987), and to this day when teaching poetry to undergrads, I illustrate a DOUBLE DACTYL with "Christopher Coldewey."
Carolyn Woodward
May 30, 2018
On behalf of his cousin Gail's family, please accept our deepest condolences.
Mickey Rogers
March 13, 2018
A truly remarkable professor during my graduate school years. It was my pleasure to work for him, for a time, at MLQ, and to have him on my dissertation committee. Mary Baker, UW '91.
Mary Baker, PhD
March 13, 2018
I had John for a drama class in 1975. It was my first encounter with Luigi Pirandello, Sam Shepard, and Tom Stoppard. I took full advantage of his generous office hours to discuss drama and life. He was an important influence for my early (and lasting) love of the theatre.
William Hare
March 13, 2018
William Hare
January 26, 2018
Always pleased to see John - and to read his creative and sage words on early drama. Many years have passed since we hung out together in Camerino, but a happy memory. John's passing is a very sad loss to early drama scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond.
Pamela King
January 19, 2018
I first met John as my roommate for a 6 week cycling adventure in Patagonia. We were caste together as "fellow snorers" , but we both slept so soundly, neither knew the other snored. John did the daily trip log each evening, and we greatly enjoyed discussing the day and events that should be recorded. The adventure was tough, cold, and wet....but my memories are warm and vibrant due in great part, to the wonderful fellowship I gained from John. We all will miss him, but he has added to my life experiences and I am grateful for having known him. Steve Jahn
Steve Jahn
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