In Memoriam: Harry Ritchie
Remembering Harry Ritchie,
One of the Department of Theatre’s founding professors, Harry Ritchie, passed away on January 14, 2020. He retired in 1995 after serving for many years as the chair of the department, professor of theatre history, acting teacher and director of many departmental productions. He was a professor at Tufts University before joining DU. Harry was 90 years old.
I was a student of Harry Ritchie’s from 1985-1989. In those years, the Department of Theatre was a tiny program under the umbrella of the English & Literary Arts Department. Together with Design Professor William Temple Davis and Acting/Directing Professor Paula Sperry, Harry took on the huge task of building the program back into a full department.
As a student, I was only peripherally aware of this. I just knew that I was experiencing something incredibly special and unique. The timing of my arrival as a student meant that I had a magical experience watching three such drastically different personalities teach and inspire me and my fellow students. Many of our courses were team taught by all three professors, and we students savored the wonderful intellectual arguments and deep debates that often ended with Harry saying something hilarious, lifting the tension, and leaving us all laughing. In his history of theatre courses, Harry taught me that a deep knowledge of history is crucial to understanding the times we are living in now. He was a brilliant theatrical historian with detailed facts readily available at his fingertips. He balanced that intellect with an abiding human empathy and a love of storytelling.
Harry was the quintessential professor. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches and always had a pipe in his mouth and a smile on his face. is office, at that time in Margery Reed Hall, had floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books. The overflow was stacked all around his desk and in every spare space. I recently was reminiscing with Professor Emeritus William Temple Davis, and he reminded me that we staged a production of Educating Rita while I was a student. In that play, the main character is a university professor and the play takes place in his office. Harry directed the show. When we built the set, we borrowed all of Harry’s books from his office. Piles and piles of books became the main element of the scenic design. All quarter, Harry constantly had to come to the stage, grab his books for class, and then return them to the scenery for that night’s show.
It is impossible to quantify the impact Harry had on me and countless other students. His passion for his subject was infectious. I fell in love with theatre in those years and I chose theatre for my career.
I asked Professor Emeritus Davis to explain the impact Harry had on the department, and he said, “Without Harry Ritchie’s selfless decision to keep supporting undergraduate theatre education, the DU Department of Theatre would not exist.”
Thank you Harry, for all you gave to us.
Assistant Professor, Lighting and Scenic Design
Department of Theatre