Students remember Darryl Gless as a bright-eyed professor sitting on the edge of his desk, book open in his lap, looking out at his students with a sense of eagerness.
Gless, 68, died at the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center on June 10 after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant he received after battling a marrow disorder for 15 years.
“He operated under the shadow of this debilitating disorder, but he thrived with it,” said Reid Barbour, a professor of English at UNC and one of Gless’ first students. “He kept learning. He learned German and French, he traveled, and he continued writing and teaching.”
“I can’t believe he’s gone because he gave off an aura of strength. Even on his death bed, his soul was strong.”
Gless is survived by his wife, Friederike Seeger, who is due to give birth to their daughter, Elena “Leni” Gless, in late July .
He was a friend to many in the English department, a defender of the humanities, a respected professor and a thoughtful and encouraging mentor to students during his 30 years at UNC.
“No matter what we were reading, you could tell he was having as much fun teaching as we were analyzing the texts,” said Ryan Passer, who took Gless’ Shakespeare course.
He won many distinctions at the University, including the Roy C. Moose Distinguished Professor of Renaissance Studies award in 2009 and the University Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1983.
“He was so passionate about Shakespeare that just listening to him share his knowledge inspired students to research the material to try to discover what Dr. Gless felt when he read these works,” said senior Sara Russell, who took several of Gless’ courses.
Gless was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University with former President Bill Clinton, who later appointed him to the National Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“Clinton identified him as a fearless, tireless, articulate defender of the humanities,” Barbour said.
“As an administrator at UNC, he created a legacy of recognizing the moral and ethical value of these programs.”
Despite his success, Gless never forgot his small-town roots. Working at a public university was important to Gless because he was able to mentor students from all circumstances, Barbour said.
“He had a real humility about him due to his small-town upbringing,” Barbour said.
“I chose him as my honors thesis mentor because his rise in the academic world was an inspiration. He encouraged and challenged students to surpass all expectations.”
Many students entered his classes believing British literature was inaccessible, but he reassured them they weren’t disadvantaged due to their background, said Isabel Hagood, one of Gless’ former students.
“My most life-changing moment at UNC was when he looked at me and told me in his most genuine way that I could do it,” Hagood said.
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