In Memoriam

Professor Emeritus, Duncan Fishwick (department chair, 1988-1992) passed away August 6, 2015.

14 August 2015

A Tribute to Professor Duncan Fishwick

The first time I heard his name was in June, 1988. I was teaching at Memorial Universityand the Head of Classics there, Prof. John Whittaker, advised that I apply to do my doctorate at the University of Alberta. "Who is there?", I asked. "Who is there? Why, Fishwick !" I replied, "Fishwick ?" "Yes, Fishwick. Duncan Fishwick. He is a Roman Historian, the world authority on the Imperial Cult." When I arrived in Edmonton a few months later, I came to the department and found a very busy man in the main office. "Sir, are you Dr. Fishwick?" "Yes." My name is Bernard Kavanagh and...." "Oh, yes, Whittaker called about you. Welcome to the department.", and then he went on, looking for what he needed. He and Dr. Whittaker were contemporaries and both were graduates of Preston Catholic College, a Jesuit-run school in Preston, Lancashire. The Classics were the highest priority at that school and, besides Profs. Fishwick and Whittaker, the Latinists Michael Coffey of the University of London and Peter Walsh of the University of Glasgow were also notable graduates.

When I was asked to write a tribute for Dr. Duncan, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus, who passed away after a short illness on August 6 at age 86 , I wondered, "Where do I begin ?" It would make the best sense to begin with his scholarship, an immense body of work, which included over a hundred articles and a magnum opus, The Imperial Cult in the Latin West, (ICLW), a three volume work which serves today as the definitive analysis of the worship of the Roman Emperor as a living god throughout the Empire's Western provinces. For the importance of his scholarship, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2004) and a correspondent for the equivalent societies of France and The Netherlands. (It was from Leiden in The Netherlands where Duncan was awarded a doctorate, his MA having been from Oxford.).

Most of his scholarly work was completed while he was a member of the UofA's Department of Classics, where he arrived in 1969 and where he served as Head from 1987 until 1992. When he retired in 1994, a conference was held in his honour and among the participants were the most important Roman Historians of Europe (Germany, France, Great Britain) and North America, such being the respect in which Duncan was held. While many may think "retire" means "stop working", to Duncan, it meant a break from teaching, not from research. A month or so before he passed away, twenty one years after he "retired", one of his articles was published in Phoenix and two others were in press.

Duncan Fishwick may have been a world authority in the field of Roman History, but even more importantly he was a family man, the husband of Bibi, to whom he dedicated the ICLW, and the father of Birgitta, Peter and Steven. They are a close and devoted family and I had the honour of getting to know all of them. Dinner at their house was always a treat, as Bibi inevitably prepared the most wonderful Swedish delicacies, that thought of which still makes my mouth water.

To his family, I offer my most sincere condolences. Bibi and the Fishwicks are aware, I am certain, that their grief and sadness are shared by Duncan's students, both graduate and undergraduate, colleagues and fellow researchers throughout the world. His legacy, however, as a scholar and as a gentleman will endure for a very long time. To Duncan, who was my professor, supervisor and most supportive friend, I say, "Requiescas in pace, care magister et amice."

Bernard J. Kavanagh, Ph.D (Alberta, 1993)
Associate Professor, Department of Classics
Queen's University, Kingston ON