By Vic Tulli
Rutgers English was sad to learn that retired Professor Patricia Lou Drechsel Tobin, “Pat” around Rutgers English and “Patty Lou” to her family, passed away in her home in August, at the age of 69. She taught at Rutgers from 1974 until she retired in 1999, directed the English Honors Program for several years, and received rave reviews from her students. Friends remember her as a convivial and adventurous person: someone who hosted amazing dinner parties for colleagues and students, and also enjoyed driving cross-country in her convertible during school breaks. After she retired for health reasons, she moved to Seattle to be closer to her children. She will be dearly missed by her many friends.
Professor Tobin was born in Ohio and majored in English at Duke University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in 1973, writing her thesis on narrative in postmodern fiction. That research became her first book, Time and the Novel: The Geneological Imperative. Her scholarly approach was noted for mixing complex literary theory with engaging interpretations of novels by Mann, Faulkner, Lawrence, and Nabokov, among others. Her later book, John Barth and the Anxiety of Continuance, focuses on the work of one influential contemporary writer, again using textual readings as a basis for discussing postmodern writing in the context of contemporary literary theory.
She brought that same sense of the useful tension between theory and interpretation to her courses, embracing the challenge of teaching difficult theoretical concepts to English majors. As a result, she advised more than her share of honors theses and independent studies. Former students particularly remember a study she led that consisted of a semester-long intensive reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. At the same time, she was an exacting and precise teacher of writing, helping students learn to revise their work by teaching them to count elements like unnecessary verbs, adjectives, and confusing dependent clauses. Senior honors students remember relearning the basics with her, improving their writing greatly even while completing a difficult research project. She strove to help her students merge in-depth analysis with clear, vivid prose, and was seemingly tireless in helping students excel in all ways.
She loved teaching and was proud that she never taught the same class twice, often revising her syllabi and developing completely new approaches to familiar texts. Her delight in traveling and in exploring new material in new contexts led her to teach in several other countries. She held Fulbright Fellowships to England and Argentina, and taught through Study Abroad programs in Gambia and Spain.
Colleagues remember Professor Tobin as being “a force of nature,” a dedicated professor who was a whirlwind of energy with a loud and friendly laugh. “She would have gone on teaching for many more years,” says her daughter Caylyn Tobin, “but unfortunately a heart attack and poor health made that impossible.” Still, in the memory of her students, her dynamic and passionate teaching lives on.
If you have memories of Professor Tobin that you’d like to share, please consider sending them to Friends of Rutgers English. We’ll append them to this article, where they will remain as a lasting tribute. Email us at email@example.com, or mail to us at Friends of Rutgers English, 510 George Street, New Brunswick NJ 18901.
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Professor Pat Tobin, one of my favorite teachers in my four years at Rutgers.
Professor Tobin taught the Senior Honors class when I was a senior in 1980. She was in a very small minority in the English Department that year regarding my Senior Thesis--in fact I believe she was the only Professor (beyond my advisor) who saw much of anything in my project. I took a huge risk in writing about Nathaniel West and the Frank Capra films of the 1930s and 1940s, when it felt like everyone else was writing about Chaucer and Milton. And my risk almost ended in disaster, but thankfully it paid off in that I loved writing the paper and still received Honors for my work. I think it was Pat's encouragement that made it possible.
My warmest wishes to Pat's family. She was a special lady. She embraced all that is good in academia and she was always willing to recognize "out of the box" thinking. I hope there are still other Pat Tobins in the Rutgers English Department today.
Brian Kurtz, RC '80