Passing of William Crossgrove

I write with great sadness to share that William Crossgrove, Professor Emeritus of German Studies and Comparative Literature, passed away on November 29, 2018.



Professor Emeritus William Crossgrove died at home on November 29th. Born in Archbold, Ohio on June 6, 1938, he grew up as a member of a farming family. He graduated with an AB degree in German from Ohio University in 1959, and became a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin where, in 1962, he submitted his Ph.D. dissertation Vowel Quantity in Proto-Germanic.

Hired by Brown University in 1962, Bill rose through the ranks to become a Professor of German Studies and Comparative Literature. He mentored several graduate students and taught courses in the German language, as well as German literature, civilization and culture. A man of broad interests, he also taught Medieval Studies, Comparative Literature, Old High German, Old Saxon, Old Icelandic, and Middle High German as well as a variety of interdisciplinary topics including World Agriculture and the History of Hunger. The latter led to his co-editing the book Hunger in History.

Bill’s research focused on vernacular knowledge literature, particularly medieval herbals and handbooks on agriculture. Among his publications was Der deutsche Macer: Vulgatfassung, written in collaboration with Bernhard Schnell, that analyzed a German herbal published in the thirteenth century. His approach to studying medieval manuscripts was thoroughly modern, and by the mid-1960s he had already published in the field of computational linguistics.

Bill also left his mark in administration: as chair of his department, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Senior Fellow of the Wayland Collegium. He retired in 2003, but shortly thereafter became Administrative Director of the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation—a position he held until 2016.

Bill had a strong commitment to social justice. He was a member of the Committee on Racial Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union. During the 1960s, he and his wife were active in the Civil Rights movement, and they remained involved in other progressive causes. During the decades before the end of the Cold War, he was actively involved in issues of war and peace, particularly avoiding nuclear war.  Deeply engaged in local environmental issues, he was a member of the Salt Pond Coalition and a volunteer at the Kettle Pond visitor center.  He was also a docent at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

Bill was a founding member of a men’s group that has met bimonthly for 39 years.  The remaining members of that group will miss his warmth, thoughtfulness, humor, keen insights and his ability to draw effortlessly and instantly on his encyclopedic knowledge of diverse subjects.

Bill was married to Hannelore (Lo) Guenther Crossgrove for 53 years. She survives him, as do their children, Kirsten and Dylan, grandchildren, and sisters. He also leaves behind countless close friends from his academic career and from the many other pursuits in his active and engaged life.