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John Watson Cummins

1964 Ph.D. Graduate
Dissertation Advisor(s): Theophilus Ernest Martin Boll
"Himself and Mr. Maxwell: The Life and Works of W.B. Maxwell"

August 17 1920 - December 21 2006

John Watson Cummins of Longwood at Oakmont, formerly of Squirrel Hill, passed away on December 21, 2006 at the age of 86. He was the son of the late Esther (Hastings) Cummins McIlvaine, and the late John Watson Cummins. He was the brother of the late Robert Cummins of Ben Avon, and David Cummins of Delaware, Ohio. He is survived by his beloved wife of 58 years, Catharine (Letsche) Cummins, daughter Catharine Viccari of O'Hara Township, and two grandchildren, Nicholas and Casey Viccari.

Dr. Cummins grew up in the Ben Avon neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and later served as a Lieutenant in the Navy during World War II aboard the transport ships USS Monticello and USS Fergus. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Arts degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He taught briefly at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Pennsylvania before joining the English Department faculty as an Assistant Professor at the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in September 1954. He began his concentration on 18th century literature and later moved his scholarship to 19th century literature.

He served as the advisor on the Minor Bird, the Chatham poetry magazine, took small humorous parts in several Chatham theater productions, and was known for his rendition of "Twas The Night Before Christmas" at the College's traditional holiday Fickes Egg Nog. He later became the chairperson of the English Department and the Buhl Professor of English in 1987. By this time it is estimated that he had taught 3,400 Chatham students (50% of the then-living graduates of the College). He retired from teaching in 1987 as Professor Emeritus. He remained at the College as the archival project director, a position he held for six years. After 39 years of service to the college, he announced his second, and final, retirement in 1993. He was awarded Trustee Award for Distinguished Service by the College in 1997 for his years of dedication to the institution.

Dr. Cummins also helped to save one of Chatham's most treasured possessions: The Louis Comfort Tiffany Alumnae Memorial Window. The window, commissioned in 1889, was eventually so covered with industrial soot that it was removed and packaged in crates in 1925. As keeper of the archives, however, Dr. Cummins knew where the window was stored and alerted the College's then-new President, Dr. Esther Barazzone, to its existence in 1992. After an extensive restoration effort, the window was restored in 2000 and now hangs in the College's Science Complex.

Dr. Cummins enjoyed reading (over 75 books a year in his adult life), the theater, opera and humor.