Society of Fellows


Charles Babcock, FAAR 1955, RAAR 1987

Charles L. Babcock
1 of 1

Charles Babcock, FAAR 1955, RAAR 1987 
by David Hahm

Charles Luther Babcock died December 7, 2012 at the age of 88.

He was born in Whittier California on May 26, 1924. After attending Whittier Union High School he enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley in 1941 where he became a member of the ROTC. In 1943 he entered the US Army, and served in General Patton's Third Army in the invasion of Germany in 1945. As a second lieutenant, he earned the Bronze Medal for leading his platoon through heavy fire at Neumarkt, assisting the wounded, personally liberating nine POWs and capturing the local civilian leader of the resistance. After the war as a captain he became aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. John Coulter, who went on to become deputy commander of the Fourth Army.

In 1947 Babcock resumed his studies at Berkeley, where he earned a bachelors (Phi Beta Kappa) in Latin in 1948 and a doctorate in Classics in 1953, His dissertation The Dating of the Capitoline Fasti and the Erasure of the Anton ii Names was written under Arthur E. Gordon. So began Babcock's lifelong interest in Latin epigraphy and the history of the Roman Empire. He continued his pursuit of Roman history and epigraphy at the American Academy in Rome as a Fulbright Scholar and Academy Fellow (1953-55). While sailing to Rome with other Americans heading for the Academy, he met Mary A. Taylor, a graduate student from Bryn Mawr. They were married in 1955 and raised three children.

After two years as instructor at Cornell University (1955-57), Charles became assistant professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained for nine years (1957-66). He was promoted to associate professor in 1962. At Penn he discovered his talent for administration, serving in due course as assistant dean, vice-dean, and acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

He came to The Ohio State University as professor of classics and chair of the department in 1966. In 1968 when the arts and sciences were reorganized into five separate colleges, Charles became the first dean of the College of Humanities. After one term as dean he returned to teaching, specializing in Latin epigraphy and literature, especially Horace and Tacitus, while Horace and Augustan Rome became the focus of his papers and publications.

From 1980-88 he served as chair of the Department of Classics. In 1986 he and his colleague, Stephen Tracy, established a research center for the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions. Subsequently expanded to include paleography, the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies is now the only comprehensive research facility for the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions and manuscripts in the United States.

At Ohio State he won numerous awards: the Alfred J. Wright Award "for significant service to organized student activities and for the development of effective student leadership" (1968); The Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award (1982); the first Exemplary Faculty Award in the College of Humanities (1989); and the Distinguished Service Award (1996).

He was also active in many national and regional classical associations. He was director of the American Philological Association (1968-72); executive committee member (1970-74) and president-elect (1976-77). He was president (1977-78) of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS); and a trustee (1967-70), and was awarded the OVATIO Award of Merit in 1982. He also served as vice-president (1971-72) and president (1972-73) of the Vergilian Society.

Ever since his original residency at American Academy in Rome Babcock maintained a lively interest in that institution. In 1966 he was professor-in-charge of the Summer School. In 1986 he was a resident in Classical Studies, and in 1988-89 became acting Mellon professor. He also participated in the administration of the Academy, serving as a trustee (1981-83), chair of the Friends of the Library (1985-86}, and, after serving as Mellon professor, chaired the Advisory Council to the School of Classical Studies (1992-94).

He was equally involved with the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, familiarly known as the "Centro." The Centro was established in 1965 at the instigation of Brooks Otis to provide a study-abroad experience for undergraduates. With an interest in the project from its inception, he became professor-in-charge in 1974-75, then served as chair of the Managing Committee for the next seven years (1975-82). He continued to recruit students for both the Centro and the American Academy throughout his career and long into retirement.

After retirement in 1992 he continued to serve The Ohio State University in various capacities. The Thompson Memorial Library held a special place in his heart. During the critical time of raising money for its renovation, he co-chaired Campus Campaign, the annual fund raising effort of the University, for two years (2001-02), then served as president of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library. He saw his efforts on behalf of the library rewarded with the completion of the $120 million renovation in 2009.

Charles Babcock
a personal reflection by
John Gruber-Miller, Cornell College

One of the most momentous days in my life was the day I first walked into the offices of the Classics Department at The Ohio State University. Charles Babcock (with Mark Morford) was there to greet me as I came for a visit. Charles' towering yet smiling presence welcomed me to embark on a professional career as a classicist. His passion for Latin literature, inscriptions, material culture, teaching, and  collaborating  with others has shaped my career as no other person has in the 26 years since I left OSU.

It was no surprise that Charles was there in the office, because he was always present, checking in with graduate students, offering counsel, ready to chat about a text, a trip, or anything that was happening in life. While I might have been worried about receiving one of his scowls because I had not performed up to his expectation, I realized in retrospect that it was his way of showing he cared, challenging me to do better next time, to reach my potential.

Charles was recognized at Ohio State for his teaching, but Charles's greatest strength may have been as a teacher of teachers. He certainly nurtured a passion for teaching in me. His visits to observe my teaching always yielded great encouragement and practical advice for how I could improve upon what he had just witnessed. His beautiful notes summarizing his observations, written long hand, never failed to inspire me to do better. And when as a senior graduate student I was given the chance to teach Latin literature in translation, he sat me down to talk through the reading list and the organization of the course. When I was teaching intermediate Latin and wanted to develop a special unit focusing on inscriptions he was there, taking me to the slide library to show me slides of Latin inscriptions and providing me with a short course on Latin epigraphy.

When I was deciding on a dissertation topic and choosing an advisor, he helped me narrow down my options and devise a dissertation proposal and, though it was not his beloved Horace or Tacitus, he volunteered to mentor me through a dissertation on Propertius. Forever patient, Charles would welcome me to his office for long discussions about my reading of a poem or set of poems, organizing a chapter, or revising a section. His strategy was to ask questions and let me come to possible solutions to interpretive cruces.
Two years after I had begun my teaching career, I was fortunate to earn a Fulbright to study at the American Academy in Rome summer session, and it just so happened that Charles was there that summer working on the epigraphical collection at the Academy. In our free time, he graciously spent time sharing with me his twin passion for Roman topography and opera. Although I never had the opportunity to take his Roman topography course as a graduate student, he gave me a tour through the Roman Forum, uncovering for me not just the various monuments individually, but helping me make connections between monuments, explaining how they were part of a larger building program, and how their location in the Forum mattered. That same summer Charles invited me to accompany him to Verdi's Aida in the Baths of Caracalla. What a perfect combination, 19th century opera, set in Egypt, performed in Rome in the ruins of Caracalla's Baths. Little did I realize that Charles was such a connoisseur of opera and theater. Later I learned of his trips with his wife Mary across North America to attend performances of Wagner's Ring Cycle and Shakespeare.

Finally, Charles had a gift for bringing people together. Indeed, had he lived in ancient Rome, he might very well have been elected pontifex maximus because he was the consummate bridge-builder. Whether it was sponsoring Classics Day for high school Latin students at OSU, encouraging students to attend the Centro in Rome, co-founding (with Stephen Tracy) the Center for Epigraphical and Palaeographical Studies at Ohio State, offering leadership to the American Academy at Rome, CAMWS, and the APA, or leading a search for a new President and chairing the Campus Campaign for renovating the Thompson Library at Ohio State, Charles encouraged people to come together, both for their own good and that of the larger project. In short, Charles always looked to the greater good, and by doing so, has left us a model of leadership and a legacy of goodwill among his students, colleagues, and friends.