Dr. Charles Courtney

Dr. Charles R. Courtney, professor emeritus of English, passed away peacefully at home with family in attendance on Jan. 23, 2014, in Sedona, Ariz. He was 91.

He was a native of Plainfield, N.J., born Dec. 9, 1923. He excelled early in academics, which included graduation from Tucson High School, a bachelor of arts degree in English from Westmont College, and a master’s degree and doctorate of philosophy in medieval English literature from the University of Arizona.

He married Eleanor Lewer on the day they both graduated from the Westmont College Los Angeles campus in 1945. The couple had five children.

Dr. Courtney was fluent in French and Italian and conversant in several foreign languages. He taught English and French at Westmont for three years and then at Santa Barbara Junior High School for five. In 1959, he began a lifelong career at Santa Barbara City College, where he served as president of the Instructors Association, advisor to the student honorary society Alpha Gamma Sigma and chairman of the English Department. Twice he was voted Faculty Member of the Year and delivered the college’s inaugural annual Faculty Lecture (Spiritual and Moral Values in Literature) in 1981.

His interest in travel led him to initiate the first City College Study Abroad Program in Paris. In 1960 he became involved with The Experiment in International Living, which sends groups of selected students to live with local families in foreign countries. Over numerous summers, he supervised student groups in Switzerland, France, Italy, Japan and India. In 1961-62, he was the recipient of a Fulbright grant for an exchange teaching position in Newry, Northern Ireland, where his children attended an Irish school.

After 35 years of marriage, he and his wife, Dr. Eleanor Courtney, divorced. He retired in 1983 but continued to teach part time at SBCC until 2002, when he relocated first to San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and later to Sedona.

He is survived by his five children, daughters Roxane Martinez, Odette Green and Rosine Okie, and sons Breton and Gavin; his partner, Philip; and great-grandchildren.

Dr. Charles Courtney is most remembered for his “joie de vive,” which expressed itself everywhere in him from his consummate international culinary skill and cheery “bon jour” greeting to the profound and charming knack of quoting from disparate literary sources to capture contemporary dilemmas and relationships with exceptional acumen. Dr. Courtney saw the good in everyone and could support it with a literary reference on the spot.

For him, diversity was fascinating and his unbounded enthusiasm to bravely experience new worlds inspired students, faculty, his community, parishioners, an international assortment of lifelong friends and especially his family.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move…
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress …
— W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Purpose shall be the firmer, heart the keener,
Courage shall be the more, as our might lessens.
— Battle of Maldon