Department of Languages and Literatures mourns passing of former head Dr. Perry Gethner
Friday, November 17, 2023
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Oklahoma State University’s Department of Language and Literatures lost a beloved member of its faculty this week with the passing of recently retired French professor and former department head Dr. Perry Gethner on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
A graduate of Carleton College and Yale University, Gethner came to OSU as an assistant professor in 1984 after serving in academic positions in Strasbourg, France; at Quinnipiac College in Hamden, Connecticut; and at the University of Chicago.
Gethner rose through the ranks at OSU, serving as the department of head of languages and literatures from 1999 to 2015 and retiring this year as Regents Professor of Foreign Language after 39 years at OSU.
"Dr. Gethner was an outstanding scholar and teacher,” said OSU Vice Provost Chris Francisco. “His honors seminars always received rave reviews, and his tireless efforts to bring a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to OSU were a great service to the university and generations of students to come. He had a remarkable career, certainly worthy of the Regents Professor title he earned."
In 2009, Gethner hired Spanish professor Dr. Erik Ekman, who now serves as head of the Department of Languages and Literatures. Ekman witnessed Gethner’s impact over the years on students, faculty and alumni alike.
“It’s difficult to sum up Perry’s work in the Department of Languages and Literatures at OSU because he’s done so much over so many years,” Ekman said. “He was an excellent teacher, having taught all levels of French. His students were impressed by both his learning and the energy he brought to the classroom. He was a helpful mentor, a very dependable colleague and always a source of good advice and information.”
In addition to teaching, Gethner was a prolific scholar and historian of early modern French literature. Ekman explained that after the French Revolution in the late 18th century, most French female playwrights were “systematically written out of the French literary canon.”
“Perry and his co-editors worked to edit, translate, annotate and publish these women’s texts to make them available to contemporary readers and thus recover these important lost literary voices,” Ekman said. “The translations they produced ended up in literature courses through the English-speaking world, and the French editions are handed round to graduate students soon after they become available for dissertations in places like Harvard, Penn and the Sorbonne.”
Gethner published more than 30 editions and translations during his career and had over 70 scholarly articles to his name while a professor at OSU. His research earned him an international reputation, with top French scholars seeking out his expertise on French texts.
“Collaborating with and being considered a peer by French scholars was no small feat,” Ekman said. “He will be greatly missed — both as a colleague and a friend.”
A memorial service will be held for Gethner at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 19, at Temple Emanuel in Ponca City, Oklahoma.
To leave condolences for Gethner, visit the Department of Languages and Literatures’ website.