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Week of April 30, 2012


Roy Jay Nelson

Roy Jay Nelson, professor emeritus of French, died Feb. 8. A scholar and teacher of modern French literature, Nelson joined the university faculty as instructor of French in 1957, and retired in 1994.

A native of Pittsburgh, Nelson earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1951, and a Master of Arts from Middlebury College in 1952. He completed his doctorate at the University of Illinois in 1958. At U-M, he rose through the ranks to assistant professor (1960), associate professor (1965) and professor of French (1972).

He began his scholarly career with a focus on the early 20th-century poet and essayist Charles Péguy, but over the course of his career worked a wide variety of topics in late 19th-century and 20th-century French literature and in narratological theory. His publications included “Péguy, poète du sacré” (1960) and “Causality and Narrative in French Fiction from Zola to Robbe-Grillet” (1989), as well as three textbooks and a number of articles on French literature and film.

He is remembered by generations of U-M students as an exceptionally dedicated and outstanding undergraduate teacher. His patience, cheerfulness and respect for students made him especially successful in the difficult transition courses, in which students who had hitherto studied the French language were expected to use their language skills in the study of literature. At the graduate level, he chaired or co-chaired 10 doctoral dissertation committees and was a member of many others. Nelson introduced the study of French film into Michigan’s curriculum, and he directed the French Honors Program for 15 years prior to his retirement. His dedication to students and his great success as a teacher were recognized by the Ruth Sinclair Award for Honors Counseling and, in 1992, the Amoco Foundation Teaching Award.

Recognized by his colleagues for his fairness, efficiency and devotion to democratic principles in all matters of faculty governance, Nelson twice served as acting chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, in 1977 and again in 1992-93. He served on most departmental committees and on many college and university bodies, including the Admissions Committee, the Senate Assembly and the Rackham Divisional Board for the Humanities.

During his retirement in Sarasota, Fla., he was active in the local Alliance Française and in the U-M Alumni Association Chapter. He is survived by his wife of many years, Anita; daughters Barbara Nelson Videira and Wendy Nelson; and three grandchildren.

The Record accepts obituaries from University departments, family members and funeral homes acting on behalf of the family. All obituaries must be for active or retired faculty and staff members.



Krisztina Fehervary, assistant professor of anthropology, LSA, on her first visit as a child to Hungary: “Everything was so different and bizarre. It was just an upside-down world and I was fascinated with it.”


Center for Research on Learning and Teaching 50th Anniversary celebration opens with president’s panel, 9:30 a.m. May 4, Michigan Union Ballroom.

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