Robert T. Oliphant, 1924-2014

Bob Oliphant
Robert T. Oliphant

Bob Oliphant passed away in June, 2014. He was one of the most optimistic and generous people I’ve ever met, and one of my best friends. That despite the fact that we never met face-to-face—a typical 21st-Century relationship, you might say.

Born in 1924 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bob spent most of his childhood in Beaver, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, before enlisting in the Army Air Corps and serving as a weather observer in England during World War II and in Germany during the occupation. After the war, he attended Pennsylvania’s Washington & Jefferson College with the intention of working as an accountant. Instead, after graduation, he played with several jazz big bands for several years and then with a one, the Crazy Cats trio, touring the Midwest for a decade. Eventually, he returned to higher education for a PhD in philology* at Stanford University with Herbert Merritt. He joined the faculty at California State University in Northridge in 1959, and never left. While publishing the expected complement of scholarly articles, on Chaucer, Shakespeare, the history of English, and philology, he also wrote four novels, Julia, Shangri-La, A Trumpet for Jackie, and the best known, A Piano for Mrs. Cimino, which became a film starring Bette Davis in one of her last roles. Mrs. Cimino was based on the true story of a woman who recovered from dementia through reality-orientation therapy.

Bob also wrote music and text for the performing arts, such as a monologue and four songs based on a Dostoevsky story entitled The Underground Man: A Sermon with Occasional Songs, and a musical score to accompany Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Bob played piano for several hours a day until shortly before he died, and wrote a poem daily to his wife, Jane.

Bob Oliphant was the most prolific contributor to the Nonpartisan Education Review, and a steadfast advocate of our mission. The pieces he wrote for the Review are listed and linked below. They range from several short essays to reference books hundreds of pages long.

More of Bob’s work can be found at other sites, such as Education Views, The Moral Liberal, and the Los Angeles Times. Amazon maintains two author pages for him, one for his scholarship and another for his fiction.

The Los Angeles Times, which published so many of his essays and letters to the editor, also published his obituary, which reads, in part:

October 25, 1924 – June 28, 2014 Robert T. Oliphant, a true Renaissance man, passed away peacefully at his home at the age of 89. He is survived by his wife, Jane, two sons Matthew (Cathy) and Jason (Eva), 6 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Robert proudly served in WWII, received his PhD from Stanford University and taught in the English department at CSUN for 36 years.

What would be Bob’s advice to the Nonpartisan Education Group, to which he contributed so much time and energy? Probably, as he so often said to me, “Keep Swingin”. I was never sure if it was a baseball or a jazz reference. Maybe both.

We miss you, Bob.

Richard P. Phelps
*Philology: the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages.


Robert T. Oliphant’s works in the Nonpartisan Education Review (in reverse chronological order)


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