July 7, 1938 – Feb. 26, 2018
Roy Roussel, the chairman who revived the Department of Media Study at the University at Buffalo, had a knack for bringing out the best in those around him.
His longtime friend and colleague Bruce Jackson, an English professor at UB, illustrated it with a recollection from the 1970s, when “we both rode bikes. He rode a hog; I rode a Honda and a BMW.
“My main story about Roy,” he said, “has to do with a dog named Lulu ... that on one morning bit a mailman, a congressman and a UB department chair. Roy saved that dog from an ignominious death.
“He was living in the country and I asked him, ‘Is there any chance you can take Lulu?’ He came to our house and I think the dog understood him. She went over and sat by his chair. She went off with him and had a wonderful life. Roy said she got out there and was running all the time and was like five years younger.”
He died Feb. 26 in his Buffalo home after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 79.
Born Royal Roussel in Houston, Texas, he was an only child.
“He was a handful when he was a kid, but he was brilliant,” said his wife, Leslie J. Walker, a former curator in the Art History Department at UB. “When he was 9, he got on a bus all by himself and went to Galveston.”
He graduated from Sewanee, Tenn., Military Academy in 1955, received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Rice University in 1959, then went to Johns Hopkins University, where he taught as a graduate assistant and completed his master’s degree and doctorate in English.
He came to UB in 1967 and was part of a group of Johns Hopkins alumni at the core of the English Department.
“He’d take off and go skiing, work as a chef,” said a film professional who was a longtime friend. “He had these wild adventures. He was brilliant, one of the smartest people I ever met, but he never lorded it over you. In every situation, he could discover a workable solution.”
His first book, “The Metaphysics of Darkness,” a study of the fiction of Joseph Conrad, was published in 1971. His second, “The Conversation of the Sexes,” a study of gender in 17th and 18th century texts, appeared in 1993.
A candidate for the chairmanship of the English Department in the 1970s, his courses included classes in film appreciation. His interest in film led to his acceptance of an appointment as interim chairman of the then-faltering Media Study Department. Founded in 1972 to encourage experimental filmmaking and analysis, it had been absorbed into the English Department.
“He was very good at working with the administration,” said Meg Knowles, who was technical director for Media Study and now is an associate professor of communication at SUNY Buffalo State. “He made it possible to expand the faculty in a way that had not been done for years. When the department moved into the Center for the Arts, it had only four faculty.
“He got great resources for us,” she added. “He got digital editing equipment. He wasn’t just an administrator. He was engaged in the work of the department.”
Mr. Roussel headed Media Study for 17 years and was its longest-serving chairman. He established programs leading to master’s degrees and doctorates. He also directed an arts management program for a couple years. He retired in 2016.
“He was really great at diplomacy and working with people,” Knowles said. “Roy was able to say yes to people and yes to ideas. Some of them didn’t work out, but many of them did. He had this facility for allowing you to grow. You’d go in with an idea and he’d say, ‘Great idea! Go with it.’ ”
One of his favorite pastimes, his wife said, was “road trips in a beat-up van. He went all over the place. He loved exploring. When he was on the road, he stopped wherever you’d want. He was completely in his element with his kids and he was like that with his students.”
Another longtime friend, UB English professor Stacy Hubbard, noted in a Facebook posting, “When Roy’s boys were toddlers, I remember him saying that the difference between being with other adults and being with his kids was like the difference between eating cold chicken and feasting on duck.”
In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Morgan A. and Cooper W.
A memorial gathering will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 9 in the Tabernacle, Grant Street and Lafayette Avenue.