A Tribute to Larry Clipper, Professor of English, 1967-1994
Like many faculty at IUSB, Larry Clipper knew little or nothing about the campus till he read its published job listings in 1966. Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 30s and 40s, he earned a BA at Brown (1953), then served as a commissioned naval officer (1953-56) aboard the cruiser Newport News, the battleship Wisconsin, and the carrier Intrepid. He completed an MA at George Washington University (1958) and a Ph.D. in Victorian Literature at the University of North Carolina (1963). He taught at Dickinson College and Ball State University before coming to IUSB.
Larry arrived in an influx of new faculty during the late 1960s. In 1967, adding to a faculty of about five professors, the Department of English hired four new professors, Larry Clipper, Lois (Hofstad) Esselstrom, Edward Kopper, and Tom Vander Ven. Campus growth exceeded the space available for offices in the few academic buildings on the river so Larry and many colleagues had offices in outlying, forgettable houses on Mishawaka Avenue and 20th Street, all of them in time demolished to make room for more parking lots, the parking garage, and Wiekamp Hall.
He was a central, professorial figure during the formative years of the campus. When you looked in through his open office door on the ground of old Northside or on the 4thfloor of Northside West, he typically greeted you with “What news, bubala?”
Throughout his career he worked steadily at his research and writing, primarily publishing on G. K. Chesterton, both in the Twayne English Authors Series (1974) and as an editor of the massive Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton. He also wrote a companion guide to Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano (1984).
He maintained demanding teaching standards, gave difficult exams, was impatient with unmotivated students, and had mixed feelings about the spreading net of higher education that he thought softened admissions standards.
Larry did not much care for the integration of academic research and creative arts in the traditional university. Because he perceived them as very distinct in their goals and methods, and the evaluation of new poets and fiction writers problematic, he believed they belonged under a separate institutional roof. And yet he was not a driven theorist; in the 70s he collaborated with Warren Pepperdine of Theatre in writing a stage version for IUSB of A Christmas Carol.
Throughout his career on campus, he wore jackets, Oxford cloth button-downs, and foulard and striped ties, the garb of Brown University and the Ivy League. Others grew more experimental in the wake of the 60s; some faculty wore jeans and sweaters in the classroom. When my house was gutted by fire in 1992, Larry stopped by my office to say that he was sorry to hear about the fire, and that he was also sorry to hear that I had saved most of my wardrobe.
Chancellor Les Wolfson in one address to the Academic Senate referred to Larry as our “acerbic Serb.” An equal-opportunity ironist, he had a surgical wit that sometimes lacked diplomacy.
As a charter member of a group of five (Professors Lewis, Robbins, Washburn, and me), self-named variously as the Lunch Bunch and the River Park Regulars, Larry was in his turn a fine chef and host, and in that environment we flexed our abusive wit without risk under cover of our homes and modest wines.
He avidly followed the drama and tedium of academic life in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but Larry kept his distance from the politics of IUSB. He thought the small, now defunct chapter of a teacher’s union formed on campus in the 70s was ill-advised, preferring to maintain his membership in the AAUP.
A number of his friends continued in contact with Larry after he and his wife Pat retired in 1994 to a good and peaceful time at home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Although he endured some of the hardships of aging and illness, he made the most of his life until it ended at noon on Sunday, January 22. To those of his contemporaries who remember him well, the age of 81 no longer seems remote.
--Tom Vander Ven