Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 3, Page 20
Summer 1993
Tales told out of school

     Yvonne Gause Shilling, Delaware '59, lives with her husband, Matthew,
Delaware '57, in Providence, R.I., where she teaches advanced English as a
second language to foreign graduate students at Brown University. President
of the World Affairs Council of Rhode Island, she was recently named to the
Executive Board of the National Council of World Affairs Organizations in
Washington, D.C. She speaks seven languages, translates, interprets,
participates in theatre groups and is an avid cyclist. A retired teacher,
Matthew is a self-described "fanatical" sailor who haunts the Mediterranean
and Caribbean and crewed on one of the Tall Ships last summer.

     By the time I entered the University of Delaware, I had pursued art
and music studies, married, had a child and was at least five or six years
older than my fellow freshmen. I nonetheless donned the A&S '59 dink,
basked in the anonymity of a married name and planned to go my private way
in spite of all sorts of illustrious relatives who preceded me at the U. of
     There was my mother, Catharine I. Dougherty (Gause) '25, first member
of the Women's College to be awarded the French prize for further study at
the Sorbonne and yearbook editor (later to be named Outstanding Alumna in
1975); my uncle, State Sen. Harry G. Lawson '06, author of the Delaware
"Fight Song"; my mother's older brother, Paul R. Dougherty '16, a brilliant
engineer and one of the youngest undergraduates on campus; and two other
heady academics, cousin Zadoc A. Pool III '47, and my brother, F. Gregory
Gause Jr. '51. I was duly instructed by all of the above to announce my
connections and make contact with favorite professors of yore. Delaware was
a small place then.
     My mother insisted I immediately seek out her good friend and
contemporary, Dean Francis H. Squire, her fondest mentor; W. Owen Sypherd,
English professor emeritus; and her beloved French teacher, George E.
Brinton. This I had no desire to do and put off my mother for at least a
year. At every opportunity, she asked if I had spoken with Dean Squire or
Profs. Sypherd and Brinton, and I begged off, pleading time constraints,
and promised to get to them soon. By then, I was doing fairly well on my
own, making Dean's List with a 4.0 average each semester. I had won the
freshman English prize, passed the reading knowledge test in three foreign
languages, tutored the football team in English and revived the
long-dormant Athenaean Literary Society, while holding forth with my
coterie in The Scrounge for hours and co-authoring (with Rosemarie
Battaglia, Delaware '58) the infamous Counterfeit Tales. A Chaucer remake,
Counterfeit Tales cast "full nine-and-twenty" members of the English
Department staff as hapless pilgrims "in Newarke at the Deere Parke as they
lay." This gem later burst into song as The Chanterbury Tales and can be
rendered by certain cognoscenti to this day.
     I had made my mark and could now approach the sages with impunity.
     Dean Squire I would definitely see next week. But The Review reported
Squire was off to England for a semester of research. I had missed him by
days, but assured my disappointed mother I would get to him immediately on
his return. But Dean Squire never came back to Delaware. He was tragically
struck down in mid-life while pursuing his studies in Great Britain.
     When this shock wave subsided, I set my sights on Prof. Sypherd, long
familiar to me as a child, frequent guest in our home and popular speaker
at my mother's AAUW meetings in Wilmington. But many years had passed and
Sypherd to me was the Untouchable. One of the truly great masters of the
English language and biblical scholarship, he was a mystical presence in
the college library with eager students and young faculty constantly in his
thrall. No way could I march up to him and say I was his favorite student's
daughter. So what?
     You could set your watch by Sypherd. Just before 1 p.m., he would make
his way through the west wing of Memorial Hall, a hectic time with everyone
leaving lunch and heading for afternoon classes. This one day I rattled on
too long in The Scrounge and found myself on a dead run through the library
on my way to Prof. Clift's ancient history class in Hullihen Hall. I was
late. So was Prof. Sypherd. The library corridors were virtually empty, and
as we converged in the rotunda, I had Wilbur Owen Sypherd all to myself.
Perfect time for the great talk. But, Prof. Clift would be starting her
lecture, and anyone with his druthers knew that if you missed Evelyn
Clift's lecture, one huge, inimitably delineated chunk of history was
forever lost. It could never be regained, even if you repeated the whole
course next year, because Eve Clift didn't repeat herself. Her lecture was
fresh and fascinating each day and you could not afford to miss a minute of
     For a fleeting moment, Sypherd and I were eye to eye, and I almost
launched into conversation. He smiled. I said, "Good afternoon, Dr.
Sypherd," and flew off to join Eve Clift and her good friend, Assurbanipal
the Second.
     Prof. Sypherd died peacefully in his sleep that night.
     My mother was devastated by Sypherd's death and reminded me for months
that I never even told him who I was.
     To poor Prof. Brinton fell the unpleasant surprise of having me charge
into his office early next semester and blurt out, "Prof. Brinton, I've got
to talk to you before you drop dead!"
     He jumped up from his books and said, "Young lady, I don't know who
you are, but let me be the first to tell you I have no intention of
dropping dead, now or in the immediate, or even distant, future!"
     He was right. He had far too much work to do. Also a Slavic language
expert, at the moment he was putting an English translation of Crime and
Punishment back into Russian so he could see how close he came to the
original text. He was delighted to know I was "Kitty's" daughter. He was
even more delighted that he felt he was, indeed, capturing the Dostoyevsky
spirit. We had a great conversation for hours, most of it in French. He
told me how disappointed he was that my mother had not gone on to study in
Paris. It was too much of a giant step for a woman in those days of 1925.
She finally made it there on a U. of D. alumni trip in 1976. And I, many
years later, tried to put a Lermontov poem back into Russian, inspired by
G.E. Brinton and his ever-inquiring mind.
     They're all gone now-my mother, Dean Squire, Sypherd, Brinton and
Clift, and just about all those wonderful English professors, having
shuffled off to Canterbury once and for all. Anna Janney deArmond (who is
still with us) was the "Wif of Bath." There were Madame "Weygantyne," the
"manly-man to been Augustus Able," "no parfum swich as that of
Rose-in-berry" (also still with us) and our Pulitzer Prize professor,
Robert Hillyer, "in all his lyf, not bolde enought to show it, he was a
verray parfit, gentil poet."
     I wish I had not been so young and brash, passing up the chance to
relive my mother's sparkling Delaware days with Profs. Squire and Sypherd.
I remember Prof. Brinton's parting shot as I left our first-and
last-meeting and he exhorted me to come back again and often.
     "I will," I promised.
     He looked up from his books and smiled. "I won't stake my life on it,"
he said.
                                   -Yvonne Gause Shilling