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  October 29, 2001

Retired English Professor Irving Cummings Dies

Irving Pitman Cummings, a retired professor of English, died October 10 in Storrs. He had Parkinson's disease and suffered a stroke on September 12.

Cummings was raised in Northwood, N.H., and attended the University of New Hampshire, where he received bachelor's and master's degrees in English. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he met his wife Hildegard (Zippert) Cummings. After four years at Washington State University in Pullman, they moved to Storrs in 1959, where Irving joined the faculty of the English Department.

Although his specialty was in 17th-century British literature, he taught everything from Shakespeare to Dickens, Shaw and detective fiction until his retirement in 1996.

"Irving was a scholar of Renaissance English literature," says Milton Stern, an emeritus professor of English, "but he also knew as much about American pop culture and history as any one in the department and more than most."

He is remembered for a wide-ranging memory. "Irving was a very large man, with a memory, for literature in particular, to match," says Kenneth Wilson, also an emeritus professor of English. "He had read everything and he frequently could quote it all to you. He was delightful to be with."

"He was envied by us all for his incredible memory," adds Stern. "If one of us could not place the line of a poem, or who directed a certain play, Irving always knew."

Cummings was noted as an outstanding teacher. In 1980, he received the Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching.

"Irving was a superb teacher," says Stern. "He was wonderful in the classroom and superb with examination questions."

Cummings also was active in the community.

"He was a marvelous colleague," says Stern. "He never shirked committee duties. He gave a lot of himself in service."

Adds Stern, "We will not see his likes again soon."

In addition to his wife, the former education curator at the William Benton Museum, Cummings leaves a son, Peter, of Storrs, and a daughter, Jean, of Cambridge, Mass.

There will be no funeral or memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked friends to reread a favorite 19th-century British novel or watch a classic American movie in his memory.

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