The following reflections were submitted by Dr. Ian Dowbiggin, Professor of History and Classics.
My earliest memories of Richard Kurial, who passed away on June 30, 2023, date back to the time in 1993 when he moved into the history department office across the hall from me in SDMB. As most of the UPEI community know, Richard not only taught U.S. history, but also served as the first president of the UPEIFA and Dean of Arts from 2002 to 2011. Additionally, he served on numerous committees on campus and in the community. He often acted as a UPEI representative when visiting or liaising with the Island’s schools. Students, staff, alumni and fellow faculty remember him fondly as one of the most recognizable faces associated with UPEI over the last three decades.
What do I remember about Richard? To quote what some said of his hero, U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard had a “first class temperament.” By that, I mean people enjoyed Richard’s company. He was indefatigably good humored. When he entered a room faces brightened and the mood lightened, even when the initial atmosphere was tense. He had a gift for putting people he met at ease. As Nicole Neatby, who taught history at UPEI from 1994 to 2002, told me recently, during her interview at UPEI Richard “had taken it upon himself to be particularly encouraging and kind. I always remember him fondly for that.”
Richard was the proverbial tree that bore fruit, time and again, and we all benefited from that.
Just as FDR faced adversity dealing with his polio, so Richard’s personal life was not without unhappiness. His son suffered from a rare autoimmune disease for much of his life, a source of sadness for Richard. His relations with his wife Kathy, who predeceased Richard, and his daughter were strained. When it came to his family life, Richard was a sphinx. We’ll never know how it really affected him, because in everyday life observers rarely saw anything but the cheerful Richard.
As a follower of professional sports, Richard wore his heart on his sleeve, whether it was his beloved Green Bay Packers or Vancouver Canucks. What many may not have known was that Richard also played pick-up basketball with faculty and students on a regular basis. It is difficult to believe, but right up to the pandemic Richard was a physical presence on the basketball court. Take it from me who often played against him, Richard was a tenacious, if not terribly skilled opponent.
Many may also not know that prior to taking on a largely administrative role on campus, Richard made valuable contributions to scholarship in his field. Alongside his friend David Woolner, a professor of history at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, and from 2000 to 2010 the executive director at the Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, NY, Richard organized two highly successful international conferences at the Institute and the outcome was a ground-breaking book, titled FDR, the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in America.
Again, working with David Woolner, and his former student Don Smith, an exhibition designer, Richard helped to establish a permanent exhibit of U.S.-Canada relations at the Roosevelt Park at Campobello Island.
As a teacher, Richard was popular with his students. Don Smith, who as a mature student in the 1990s at UPEI attended Richard’s classes, told me that his classes were invariably interesting. He also recounted how in one course Richard would switch to Spanish to accommodate a student from Guatemala. By all accounts, he had a deep concern for his students.
Much more can be said of Richard’s presence at UPEI and beyond campus. The bottom line is that a vital chapter of UPEI’s history closed with his passing. He will be sorely missed.