“He taught courage and gusto; he taught love,” said Reid Barbour, an English professor and former student of Gless. “He taught gusto for life’s simplest, most basic delights. Above all, he taught me how to be strong when it is most difficult to be strong.”
Members of the College of Arts and Sciences and the UNC community remembered Gless for his contributions to the University and his “unconditional kindness” at a memorial service in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center Sunday evening.
Gless died on at the age of 68 after a 15-year battle with a bone marrow disorder. Gless is survived by his wife, Friederike Seeger, and daughter, Elena Gless, who was born in August.
The heavily attended service began with a performance of “Amazing Grace” accompanied by photos of Gless in his home, on his many travels and with stacks of textbooks.
“We wanted to have a representation of how many ways he contributed to the University as a teacher, as an administrator, to give a full perspective on what he meant to Carolina,” said Mary Floyd-Wilson, a former student of Gless and professor in the English department, who helped plan the service.
Floyd-Wilson said Gless was constantly thinking about how best to give his time to the University, especially to the humanities.
“It was his community, he worked tirelessly for it,” she said. “He really just gave all his energy and time to this community because he loved it so much.”
Gless served as both chairman of the Department of English and Comparative Literature and senior associate dean of the humanities during his more than 30 years at UNC.
William Andrews, who succeeded Gless as chairman of the department in 1997, said Gless enlisted others in a cause bigger than himself, a cause close to his heart — the University.
As his former students and colleagues said, Gless left a lasting impression on the University, the department and those he worked with.
“Every bit of scholarship I ever produced would be impossible without him,” Barbour said. “Without even trying, his poise and grace had a way of shaping me up, clarifying my vision and putting me back on track.”
Gless had a love for and deep understanding of Shakespeare, said Maria Devlin, a former student.
“He didn’t just see the fictions that authors created; he saw the truths they discovered, and he lived by them,” she said.
Devlin read portions of a letter she wrote to Gless years ago in which she thanked him for his impact and dedication.
“Today, then still, this is not ‘goodbye,’” she said. “It remains, as it will always remain, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’”