In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Professors Peter L. Hays and James J. (Jerry) Murphy

The English Department lost two valued emeritus faculty members this year, Professor Peter L. Hays and Professor James J. (Jerry) Murphy. While Jerry (a Professor of Rhetoric and longtime honorary member of our faculty) retired in 1991 and Peter in 2004, both of them remained active in campus life and events into recent years, and they will both be greatly missed.


Peter Hays's picturePeter Hays received his Ph.D. in 1965 from Ohio State University and joined the UC Davis English Department in 1966. A specialist in American literature, he was best known for his work on Ernest Hemingway, on whom he published dozens of articles and six books; the most recent, Simply Hemingway, was published in 2021. He served as department chair while still an Associate Professor, and later as an interim chair for the German Department; he was a founding member of the Davis Faculty Association and helped establish the department of Comparative Literature. In a 2017 interview produced by the UC Davis Emeriti Association Peter looked back on his longtime experience at Davis as a faculty member; the interview showcases his great commitment to his students and to a learning environment that emphasizes small courses and close interaction between faculty and students. In 2018, his wife Myrna established the Peter Hays Prize to honor this commitment. The Prize is given each year to the student who has written the best expository essay in a first-year seminar, in any subject or major. Pete continued to teach in the First-Year Seminar program as an emeritus faculty member, with his last class taking place in Fall 2021. He and Myrna had collaborated with the department to judge the Hays Prize each year; they had completed their judging of this year’s entries just prior to Peter’s death in April. The Hays Prize remains a fitting memorial to Peter’s devotion to his students and his role as a campus citizen. The piece that follows is the obituary that will appear in the Davis Enterprise, written by his wife Myrna.

Peter L. Hays died March 26th in his sleep while vacationing with his wife, Myrna. After enjoying a beautiful day at the beach and dinner at their favorite restaurant, they kissed each other goodnight. The next morning, she could not wake him. The couple were together in love for over 60 years. Born in 1938 in Germany, Peter was brought to the United States as a baby by his parents fleeing Hitler; they settled in Buffalo, NY, eventually owning a grocery store. He honored them by becoming a shrewd grocery shopper, gathering coupons, and choosing stores for the best deal.

With degrees from Kenmore High School, University of Rochester, New York University, and Ohio State University, he joined the UC Davis faculty in 1966 and was a 1978 Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Mainz, Germany. After retiring in 2004, he continued teaching at UCD, particularly First-Year Seminars, and taught in the community OLLI program. 

He wrote eight books: The Limping Hero (1971), Ernest Hemingway (1990), A Concordance to Hemingway's In Our Time (1990), Teaching Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (2003), Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (2008), The Critical Reception of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (2011), Fifty Years of Hemingway Criticism (2014), Simply Hemingway (2021) as well as hundreds of articles, and co-edited Reading The Old Man and the Sea (2018). He was active in literary societies:  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Eugene O’Neill, and Arthur Miller, and was a founding member of the Ernest Hemingway Foundation. 

He loved his family, teaching, and mentoring students. He always found time for his wife, children, and grandchildren. In 2018, his wife established the Peter Hays Prize, awarded annually for the best expository essay by a First-Year Seminar program student, supporting his goal to teach students to read carefully and write well.  He mentored many students; one of his recent seminar students published in the Hemingway Review and won a prize from the Hemingway Society. Others engaged in teaching, chairing departments, and leading literary societies. He believed strongly in providing undergraduates with appropriate advising. A good citizen, he served on numerous Academic Senate committees, as English Department chair, interim German Department chair, founding member of the Davis Faculty Association, and co-creator of the Comparative Literature Department.  He received the UCD Faculty Fellowship in 1967, Danforth Foundation in 1976, Regents’ Humanities Grant, 1974, and the Dickson Emeritus Professor Award in 2011 and 2017.

He is survived by his brother, Stephen Hays, his wife, Myrna Hays, his daughter, Melissa (Elijah Grace and Wyatt), son Eric and daughter-in-law Rong (Max and Claire), and son Jeff.

No memorial is planned. Donations may be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or a charity of your choice.  But the best way to celebrate his life is to do as he did: share your knowledge with anyone interested and perform acts of kindness without expecting recognition.  This loving and caring man was, in the words of those who knew him, a mensch.

                                –Myrna Hayes


Jerry Murphy imageJerry Murphy began his career at Davis in 1965, after receiving his Ph.D. at Stanford on the G.I. Bill and teaching for six years at Princeton. A scholar of the history of rhetoric, he helped to found the Rhetoric Department at Davis and served as its chair. With the department’s transition to become the Department of Communication, his interests in medieval literature as well as ancient, medieval, and Renaissance rhetoric drew him into an affiliation with English, where he remained active in the departmental community until the very last years of his life. His interview with the Emeriti Association, recorded in 1994–95, looks back on his time in administration and as a teacher, particularly during the tumult of the 1960s. Jerry was the author of more than a dozen books in the history of rhetoric; his most recent book appeared shortly before his death on Christmas Eve, 2021. Below are tributes from two of Jerry’s close colleagues: one by Emeritus Professor Chris Thaiss, of the University Writing Program, writing to his colleagues in the wake of Jerry’s death, and one that will appear in the journal Rhetorica, by Emeritus Professor Don Abbott, of the Departments of English and Rhetoric.

It is with deep sorrow that I share the news that a great friend of the UWP, James J. “Jerry” Murphy, passed away last Friday, December 24, at the University Retirement Community in Davis. He was 98. 

Jerry was Professor Emeritus of English and of Rhetoric and Communication at UC Davis. He came to the University in 1965, after having taught at St. Mary’s College, Stanford, and Princeton. At Davis, he was a founding member and chair of the Department of Rhetoric and Communication, and also served in 1968 as Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. Among accomplishments at Davis was his winning a University Teaching Award.

As a scholar, his research in classical and medieval rhetoric was groundbreaking and earned him international renown. He was one of the four founding members of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric and first editor of its journal, Rhetorica. Before his retirement in 1991, he had published some 60 journal articles and book chapters, and authored or edited nine books. He became a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, a Distinguished Scholar in the National Communication Association, and a Fellow of the Rhetoric Society of America. In France, he was honored as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.

As a publisher himself, he founded and managed Hermagoras Press from 1983 until its purchase by Taylor and Francis in 1995. Hermagoras Press was responsible for the Landmark Essays Series, which published some of the most important work in Rhetoric and Composition Studies during those years.

Even after his retirement in 1991, Jerry Murphy remained a prolific scholar in classical, medieval, and early modern rhetoric, with six more books to his credit. Right up to the time of his passing, he was contributing to research, with his latest contributions as co-editor of the 4th edition of A Short History of Writing instruction: From Ancient Greece to the Modern United States (Routledge, 2020) and as co-editor of the newly-published Oxford Handbook of Quintilian.

In the most recent decade, he contributed to the work of the University Writing Program and of the PhD Designated Emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies through his co-leadership of the Rhetoric-at-Davis Research Cluster. With funding from the Davis Humanities Institute, Rhetoric-at-Davis brought to campus such speakers as Andrea Lunsford, Jeanne Fahnestock, Charles Bazerman, Laurent Pernot, Ramon Martinez, Cheryl Ball, Sarah Arroyo, Bahareh Alaei, and Krista Ratcliffe.

It was one of the highlights of my own professional life that I was able to work closely with Jerry during the past ten years, both through Rhetoric-at-Davis and in creating the new edition of A Short History. It has been a true honor to work with him and, especially over the past four years, to learn and appreciate much about him both within and beyond his life as a scholar. I shall always cherish the opportunities he gave me. May he truly rest in peace.    

                            —Chris Thaiss


James Jerome “Jerry” Murphy died on Christmas Eve, 2021, at the age of 98. His death marked the end of a very long and a very productive life. As readers of this journal will know, Jerry exercised a remarkable influence over the history of rhetoric and those of us who study it. 

This influence was a result, in part, of an impressive record of publication extending over a remarkable 60 years. Jerry wrote about Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance rhetoric, composition and argumentation, pedagogy and bibliography, and more. Fortunately for us, his scholarly works remain readily available to us in libraries and databases. His scholarship speaks for itself and so it is Jerry himself that I want to speak about. 

I first met Jerry sometime in the late 1970s. It was a meeting that would change the trajectory of my professional life. He had taken an interest in my work, encouraging me to pursue certain avenues and to forgo others. Fortunately, I had the good sense to follow his advice. I soon learned that I was by no means unique—Jerry regularly mentored young scholars in the United States and beyond. And his sup- port often meant more than simply encouragement. Those whose work he found promising would frequently be included in his various projects: anthologies, conferences, symposia and more. For Jerry was an impresario, an organizer, and a promoter of rhetorical scholarship in ways that benefitted many individual careers and the development of the field itself. He was, after all, one of the six founders of this society and the founding editor of this journal. And, when he perceived there were too few publishers of historical scholarship, Jerry simply founded his own publishing house, Hermagoras Press.

My association with Jerry became closer when, because of him, I was appointed to the faculty of the University of California, Davis in 1982. I remain grateful for his confidence in me to this day. My initial appointment was in the Department of Rhetoric which, of course, Jerry had established in 1965. Having him as a colleague was rather like having my own personal consultant. I would regularly go to Jerry with questions about the project I was working on at the time and he would invariably know the answer or know how to find the answer. Thus, I was distressed when he decided to retire in 1991. But I needn’t have worried because, while he may have left the University, he didn’t really retire. Indeed, after his official retirement he continued to be remarkably productive, writing or editing six books. Happily, he remained alert and intellectually engaged until just a few days before his death. His final publication, The Oxford Handbook of Quintilian, which he co-edited, arrived exactly one week before he died. He feared he would die before he saw this, his last publication, and so he was delighted to be able to hold it in his hands. 

Jerry was, then, in every sense, a gentleman and a scholar. In particular, he was a profoundly kind man who was extremely reluctant to express a negative opinion about anyone. His inherent kindness was apparent in the many scholars he aided and encouraged, but it was also evident in his extensive and varied efforts as an editor. He was careful to avoid harsh criticism of others’ material even when he regarded it as deficient. Rather, he always attempted to bring out the best in the work of others by gentle prodding and careful questioning. As a result of Jerry’s fundamental humanity, the number of people around the world who regarded him as a friend and advisor is really quite extraordinary. 

Jerry Murphy was my friend and colleague for over 40 years. And while I still find it difficult to believe he is gone, I take solace in remembering that he led a very long—and very good—life. 


—Don Paul Abbott, University of California, Davis