Citizen of the university
To celebrate the life and work of David DeLaura, we gathered at the Writers House for an event that David and I had planned just two days before he died suddenly. David was an eminent scholar and teacher of Victorian poetry and one of the most passionate citizens of the university. (He was the incoming Chair of the English department here at Penn when I was hired in December 1984, a wise and super-sympathetic person to whom I went for counsel on various matters over the years.)
After he retired I saw him maybe three or four times a year. One day I had seen David on the street. We had chatted in our usual animated way. Then I suggested that we work together on creating a program at the Writers House to celebrate Victorian poetry. Readings from the verse, some informal commentary, and a reception. Pure fun. He loved the idea and agreed. A few months later we met at KWH and planned the program. He had begun to write something that he himself would deliver that night — a mini-talk on the Victorian poets he loved. He and Ann flew off the next day to Portugal (his beloved ancestral homeland) and he died in his sleep the next night.
On November 17, 2005 - the very day we'd planned to have our program — we memorialized David. Wendy Steiner read from Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam sec. 5 and Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" and told some DeLaura stories in relation to both poets. Rebecca Bushnell reading from Algernon Swinburne's "Sapphics." Vicki Mahaffey (who had been David's student as an undergrad at Texas as well as a long-time colleague at Penn) read from Robert Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi." We recorded the event and each of the readings/reminiscences is available as downloadable mp3 audio files here. If you have time to listen to only one, I recommend Roger Abrahams. Roger was a dear, dear friend of David's, and read that night Hugh Clough's "Qua Cursum Ventus" and gave a moving talk.
“David was perhaps more interested and open with other people than any academician I ever knew," Bob Lucid remembered at the time of David's death. "His friendliness was so irrepressible that he automatically fell into conversation with anyone standing next to him in line or sitting with him on planes, trains or buses, especially if he perceived the person to be in need of any sort.”