In Memory of




Obituary for James McMurrin Dean

James McMurrin Dean

NEWARK James McMurrin (“Jim”) Dean, aged 78, died August 30, 2022, after a brief illness. He was born and reared in Berkeley, California, the son of James McMurrin Dean, Sr. and Aileen (“Peggy”) Smith Dean (later Kauffman). Jim was a kind and learned man and always had a good sense of humor. This included joking about his famous name, which beginning in the mid-1950s was the subject of comment by almost every new acquaintance. As a teenager in High School Jim made the best of it and ran for class Treasurer using the campaign slogan “Rebel with a Cause.”

It was in his Senior year at Berkeley High School that Jim had the experience that led him to his career as a Professor of Middle English literature. His English teacher, Mr. MacDonald, directed the class to open their book to theGeneral Prologue of the Canterbury Tales and began to read the loveliest poetry Jim had ever heard. Jim later recalled, “Few readers are as accomplished as Mr. MacDonald, although I have experienced many friendly people at cocktail parties who, learning that I teach Chaucer, break into a slightly schnockered version of the opening lines of the General Prologue. A little Wild Turkey doth loosen the tongue!”

Jim earned his A.B. degree at the University of California at Riverside and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. In his 44-year career he taught at Colgate, Stanford, and Tufts Universities, and most recently taught for 30 years at the University of Delaware. Upon retiring in 2017 he was awarded the title of Emeritus Professor of English.

Jim was a dedicated teacher, glad to be able to share the literature that he loved. He read Middle English beautifully (without the assistance of Wild Turkey) and it was a pleasure to listen to his resonant voice. Jim also taught writing courses and helped his undergraduate students hone their critical thinking and writing skills, spending long hours marking their papers and meeting with them to discuss their work. He was equally dedicated as a faculty advisor to his students and won an award from the College of Arts & Science at U.D. in recognition of his efforts. Jim was especially proud of the eleven graduate students that he mentored during his career, many of whom are now teaching at colleges and universities. He hosted play readings in his home for his students and colleagues and shared his love of literature with the public, giving presentations in local libraries.

Jim’s publications include many books and scholarly articles. One area of his expertise was editing Middle English manuscripts. He studied the often-contradictory handwritten manuscripts of a given literary work, determined for each work what he believed to be the author’s intended text, and documented and footnoted the edited version of the text to make the work accessible to the modern reader.

He was grateful to have a job he truly loved, and it was important to him to also do his share of the administrative work of the university. He served on many committees throughout his career, served in the University Senate for several years, and served as Associate Chair of the English Department for four years.

Jim was a loving husband and father who always made time for his family and was unwaveringly supportive. He was extremely proud of his two sons and shared with them his love of learning, of sports, of theatre, and of the outdoors. He and his wife of almost 40 years, Jennifer, enjoyed hiking and traveling together and took many interesting trips in the U.S., Europe, and South America. Above all, they enjoyed simply being at home together. Though Jim had health challenges, particularly in recent years, he always accepted his situation with good grace and enjoyed life despite his disabilities.

Jim was predeceased by his parents; his stepmother, Mabel Dean; his stepfather, George Kauffman; his half-brother, Michael Dean; and his stepsister-in-law, Madeline Kauffman. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, of Newark; son, Matthew, of Rochester, NY; son, William (Cailey), of Wilmington; half-sister Rory Dean-Evans (Carl Evans), of Richmond, CA; half-sister, Ellen Dean (Tom Starbuck), of Ventura, CA; and stepbrother, Michael Kauffman, of Santa Cruz, CA.

There will be a private celebration of life for the immediate family. The family requests no flowers, but those wishing to donate in Jim’s memory may wish to consider the University of Delaware, Development and Alumni Relations, 83 East Main Street, Newark, DE 19716, directing contributions either to the Department of English or to the Resident Ensemble Players.