Sept. 25, 2007
By Anita Martin and Mary Alice Casey
Phillip Bebb held his students to high standards, but his friendly and accessible personality inspired them to rise to the challenge. So says Adam Groves, a 2003 graduate now working in the field he shared with his former professor.
An Ohio University associate professor of history who took early retirement in 2004, Bebb, 66, was found dead in his Athens home Monday evening, according to the Athens Police Department, which is investigating.
Ohio University Police Chief Mike Martinsen offered reassurance to the university community this morning, saying, "There is no reason to believe there's any risk to the campus."
Groves, an archivist and metadata librarian at the Illinois Fire Service Institute in Champaign, Ill., said Bebb was his academic adviser for two years and his tutor for a seminar on European history. He was a high school student when he first met Bebb while interviewing for entry to the Honors Tutorial College.
"I got my start in history when Dr. Bebb accepted me into the Honors Tutorial College, and now I work as a historian. I deal with history every day," said Groves, who earned a bachelor's degree in history from HTC.
"He was affable and approachable. I can't ever remember a time when he wasn't friendly," he added. "He had very high expectations for his students, but because of his genial nature, as students we wanted to meet his expectations."
Bebb, who joined Ohio University in 1969 and took early retirement in 2004, taught a course on Michelangelo on the Lancaster campus this past summer. He last taught on the Athens campus in winter quarter 2007.
The history department canceled classes today out of respect for Bebb; classes will resume Wednesday.
"Those of us who knew Phil are deeply saddened by his passing," history department Chair Norman Goda wrote in a message informing colleagues of the news. "For nearly four decades, he delighted in teaching our students the Italian Renaissance and the wonders of Michelangelo. He touched hundreds of lives, and he left us all a little better than we were before. We will miss Phil's warmth, his kindness and his humanity."
Professor Emeritus of History Compton Reeves joined the department a year after Bebb arrived in Athens in 1969. They had been close colleagues ever since, particularly since their academic interests were similar.
"He was very devoted to his students and a very learned man," Reeves said. "He was very well read in his subject interest; particularly, he was keen on the Reformation era and European history. I specialize in Medieval Europe, which falls chronologically just before his area of interest.
"He was a happy and pleasant presence," Reeves said. "I don't recall ever hearing a cross word from him. His students felt he was someone they could talk to and learn from."
Bebb taught, among other courses, Italian Renaissance, Northern Renaissance, Intellectual History of the Italian Renaissance, Reformation History, History of Florence and Great Figures in Florence, as well as specialized courses on Michelangelo and Machiavelli. He directed the department's history tutorial program for almost 30 years.
Honors Tutorial College Dean Ann Fidler said Bebb's commitment to his students was obvious.
"He taught some of the most difficult subjects ... but he always managed to put it in a context that students could understand. That always impressed me," Fidler said. "He was someone who was very passionate about history and wholly invested in the HTC project. Students enjoyed working with him."
Bebb's history department profile on the Web notes that he co-edited three books, "Occasional Papers of the American Society for Reformation Research, Vol. One"; "Pietas et Societas: New Trends in Reformation Social History"; and "The Process of Change in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Miriam Usher Chrisman."
He also authored more than 50 articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and notices, and for many years served as secretary of the Ohio Renaissance-Reformation Forum. He served in various capacities on the boards of the Society for Reformation Research and the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference.
According to Alden Library records, Bebb was the only two-time president of Friends of the Libraries, serving in 1982-83 and again from 1990 to 1992, and was recognized for his work on the group's scholarship selection committee.
Bebb earned a master of arts degree in Renaissance intellectual history from Wayne State University and a doctorate in Reformation history from Ohio State University.