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Sidney M. B. Coulling III, S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English Emeritus, Dies at 92

Sidney Mathias Baxter Coulling III, the S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English Emeritus at Washington and Lee University, died on Feb. 22, 2016, at Kendal at Lexington. He had celebrated his 92nd birthday earlier this month. He taught for 35 years at his alma mater, from 1956 to 1991.

“When I think of Sid Coulling, I remember that he was called ‘the heart and soul’ of W&L by our former president John Wilson,” said President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “That is the perfect description. And Sid was one of the finest teachers who ever graced a classroom at Washington and Lee.”

Sidney Coulling was born on Feb. 13, 1924, in Bluefield, West Virginia, and grew up in Tazewell, Virginia. He earned a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University (1946) and an M.A. (1949) and Ph.D. in English (1957) from the University of North Carolina. As an undergraduate, he belonged to the Pi Kappa Alpha social fraternity. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946.

A scholar of Victorian literature and of British poet Matthew Arnold, he taught at Florida State University (1949–1952) and the University of Maryland (1955–1956) before returning to his alma mater in 1956.

Coulling was named the S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English in 1983, and chair of the English Department the same year; he served as chair for three years.

He wrote a book, “Matthew Arnold and His Critics: A Study of Arnold’s Controversies” (1974), and many articles, mostly about Arnold, which he published in such journals as The Review of English Studies, Studies in Philology, Victorian Studies, Studies in English Literature and The British Studies Monitor. He also contributed many book reviews to the Roanoke Times.

He belonged to Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society; the Modern Language Association of America; and the National Council of English Teachers.

At W&L, Coulling coordinated a five-year program, partly funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Council on Library Resources, to increase the familiarity of students and faculty with the resources of the university’s library. He also served as president of the university’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter (presiding over its 60th anniversary, in 1971), as chairman of the board of Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review, on the executive committee of the faculty, and on the president’s advisory committee.

For his contributions to W&L, Coulling received several honors. In 1972, the student newspaper gave him the Ring-tum Phi Award for service to students. In 1982, he was elected to honorary membership in Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society founded at W&L. And 1986, he received the Dr. William Webb Pusey III Award from the Executive Committee of the Student Body as a member of the faculty or administration who has made the greatest contribution to W&L. In 1989, Coulling received the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia.

In another recognition of Coulling’s influence, in 1986 William C. Porth, the parent of a W&L student, established the Sidney M. B. Coulling Prize in English. It is given annually to a first-year student or sophomore for the best essay on a literary topic.

And in 1993, the Sidney M. B. Coulling Scholarship Endowment was established by the estate of Mary Esther Streng. The student recipients demonstrate the greatest promise for academic achievement, and manifest in their personal lives the sense of honor and integrity that Coulling conveyed both in and out of the classroom.

Coulling contributed to the Lexington community as well, with service on the board of directors of Stonewall Jackson Hospital from 1969 to 1974, including a year as the board president. He also belonged to the Fortnightly Club and was a longtime member of the Lexington Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon and an elder.

In 1977, Coulling spoke to the W&L Richmond alumni chapter about the importance of professors’ pursuing their own research interests. “I think it’s good for me to be on leave, and good for my students; they’re never the last to get the point. Seeing me go daily to my office, not to prepare for classes but to engage in my harmless and esoteric study, they gain a new sense of Washington and Lee’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.”

In 2010, he again demonstrated that commitment when he gave the opening address at Alumni Weekend, “W&L’s Legacy of the Past.” The Class of 1960, which celebrated its 50th reunion that year, had invited their former professor to speak; the class and Coulling had both begun their careers at W&L in 1956. At age 86, he gave a witty and eloquent speech — from memory, without notes.

Upon his 1991 retirement, his English Department colleagues Ed Craun and Dabney Stuart wrote: “There used to be a podium standing in Payne 21 on which the following graffito had been scrawled: ‘Sidney Coulling taught God the English language.’ Hyperbolic no doubt, like so many undergraduate utterances, the quotation captured well both Sid’s deep commitment to literature and language and the even deeper admiration in which three decades of students have held him. And still his reputation reached well beyond the confines of this campus. While he will deny it, his is a voice which is listened to with respect by Victorian scholars all across the land.”

His uncle, Sidney M. B. Coulling Jr., graduated from the W&L Law School in 1916; his brother, the late Louis Roberdeau Coulling, was a member of the W&L Classes of 1943 and 1949 Law.

Coulling is survived by his wife of nearly 58 years, Mary Greenwood Price Coulling, whom he married on June 23, 1958; their children, Margaret Coulling Miller (and her husband, Brock), Anne Baxter Coulling (and her husband, Dr. Timothy McMahon, a member of W&L’s Class of 1987) and Philip Coulling (and his wife, Sandra Hayslette); and six grandchildren, Nathaniel Tracey-Miller, Rebecca Miller, Elizabeth Miller, William McMahon, Mary Catherine McMahon and Maria Celeste Hayslette.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions go to Washington and Lee University, Lexington Presbyterian Church or the Fellowship Fund of Kendal at Lexington.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, March 5, at 2 p.m. at Lexington Presbyterian Church. A reception will follow in Kendal Hall at Kendal at Lexington.