Mary T. "Tolly" Boatwright

Introduction by Gregson Davis

At a relaxing moment during last Fall semester I happened to mention to my very simpatica colleague, Tolly Boatwright, that I was scheduled to retire at the end of June. To my surprise, she responded in a somewhat (for her) subdued tone that she too was thinking of retiring at the close of Spring semester. In due course I did manage to adjust to this bolt from the blue and decided to tell our chair that I would be honored and delighted to plan Tolly’s retirement celebration in a format that would pay tribute to her high scholarly achievements, as well as her vibrant role in initiating  both undergrads and grads into the joys of Roman history. My plans for a an academic, as well social, “symposium” in her honor were already well in place (I had invited a select group of senior scholars in her field and two of her former grad students to present papers on the occasion) when, to my dismay, the dreaded coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head and we were obliged to postpone the event indefinitely. In the interim, I am happy to be able to pay this preliminary tribute to my dear friend and fellow Latinist, Tolly, on the pages of this historic web edition of PHEME. Two of my Emeriti colleagues, Francis Newton and Peter Burian, are co-contributors to this all-too-brief informal accolade.


Emeriti Reflections

"I claim the unique honor in this department of having taught Tolly when she was a keen and bright-eyed Classics undergrad major at Stanford. She took what later became my signature upper division undergrad course on Horace’s Odes. I can readily aver that, thanks to students of Tolly’s caliber, I was able to hone my insights on Horatian lyric that eventually formed the core of my book, Polyhymnia, several years later.

"My relationship with Tolly and her wonderful family during my decades of teaching at Duke are marked especially by our shared love of Italy. I was overjoyed when the management of student admissions to the Centro (ICCS) was transferred from Stanford to Duke (the founder of that flourishing institution was my ex-chair at Stanford, the eminent Latinist, Brooks Otis) and entrusted to the exemplary stewardship of Tolly. Our paths have crossed in Rome on several occasions – most memorably when, at my invitation, she gave a presentation to the students of my Duke-in-Rome class in front of the Pantheon. What good fortune it was, from my point of view, to be able to engage a leading historian of Hadrian’s Rome to talk to my wide-eyed students visiting the monument for the first time!"

- Gregson Davis


"Tolly and Paul have always been the warmest of hosts at their rambling, hospitable place on Englewood Avenue in Durham. But Louise and I also got to see them in Italy, when our stays there overlapped with theirs. Strictly speaking, our center of operations in Italy was always at Cassino, because of the monastic library that has a continuous tradition on that mountain-top of more than twelve-hundred years, while Tolly was of course studying and teaching in Rome. Once, when my leave corresponded with Tolly's, Louise and I must have spoken to Tolly and Paul about the scarcity of books to read in English in Cassino; way back in the '60s, we had relied on the excellent library of St. Paul's Church on the Via Nazionale. In those far-off days, we had gone to mass on Sunday morning and later took the train back to Cassino with a market basket filled with books borrowed from the shelves in St. Paul's parish-house. But in the '80s, the church had given up that library. Well, as I say, we must have told Tolly and Paul of our plight, and suddenly there arrived in Cassino a care-box of books: murder mysteries, biographies, travel books, and George Will's book on baseball ---all incredibly welcome.

"There was another visit to Cassino from Tolly, accompanied by a whole busload of her Centro students. They had toured a series of Roman sites on the Bay of Naples and were ready to see St. Benedict's center that had (uniquely) preserved authors like Apuleius and Tacitus. I met the bus and we ascended to the monastery of Monte Cassino, where we had the grand tour. It was while we were visiting the complex of pre-Roman Cyclopean walls and mediaeval staircases in the foundations (oldest part)  that I fell a little behind the group; when we emerged into a mediaeval chapel, there were Tolly and Paul's Sam and Joseph, then about six and eight years old, sitting on the altar. I nearly had a heart attack, but fortunately our guide, Don Faustino, had lagged even behind me. It was Don Faustino who took us into the library itself and showed the students some of the abbey's most famous manuscripts, including a miniature of the 11th-century bibliophile Abbot Desiderius. And in the great rebuilt baroque church, of all the Centristi it was a Duke student who redeemed the group's reputation for piety; when he walked into the basilica, he showed he knew exactly what to do by heading straight for the stoup of holy water and doing his thing with the air of having done it all his life. It was typical of Tolly's humane interests that she gave the students the opportunity that day to add that chapter of the classical tradition to their experience of Italy."

- Francis Newton


"I have not known Tolly as long as Gregson, but we met all the same in what now seems like a distant past—1975-76 when I was teaching at the Intercollegiate Center and Tolly was doing research for her dissertation at the American Academy. A few years later, she became the first woman to be appointed to a tenure-track position in classics at Duke. From that point on, through thick and thin, she became an indispensable colleague and a dear friend.

"An early memory of mine involves meeting Tolly at a protest march in Greensboro after Klan members had shot up a peaceful rally of self-proclaimed communists who had been given no police protection despite ample warnings that trouble was brewing. Several people were killed and wounded, some of them employees of the Duke Medical Center. When I saw Tolly, I went over and fell in with her and a young man who was with her. As we walked along, I asked the man what had prompted him to join the protest, and he smiled shyly and said this was not the sort of thing that he would ordinarily do, but he was really there because of Tolly. That was Paul Feldblum, and the two soon married, and eventually had the two wonderful boys, now grown and married themselves, who almost gave Francis a heart attack at Monte Cassino.   

"If I had to choose one word to describe Tolly, it would be ‘caring’. She is driven to an unusual extent by a desire to see everyone succeed, not just herself, but her students, her colleagues, and the staff as well. I expect that all of us can think of instances when she has anticipated needs, called attention to things she knew could be interesting or useful, listened compassionately, gave wise advice and encouragement. Tolly expects people to do their best, but at the same time makes sure they have the resources required and the support they needed.

"Tolly’s caring was manifest in her decades-long devoted service to the Intercollegiate Center in Rome, as a faculty member, a member of the Managing Committee, and as Duke’s representative perpetua. Every October when the committee met at Duke she and Paul hosted a wonderful party at their house open to everyone who had a connection to the Centro, a festive way to renew friendships around a shared love of an institution that has brought the study of classical antiquity to life for generations of young men and women, some of whom have gone on to replenish the ranks of our profession. And of course Tolly was one of the moving forces behind the amazing 50th anniversary celebration of the Centro in Rome in 2015, and was one of the editors of the handsome history of the Centro prepared and published as part of the celebration." 

- Peter Burian