John Pratt came to the CSU English Department from the Air Force Academy in 1975, and served as the department head until 1980. He was the college’s first Fulbright professor, having spent a year in Portugal in 1974. During his time as chair, he displayed a deep integrity, a great commitment to education, and an ongoing focus on advancing the cause of women within the Department and the university as a whole.
He had a great love of teaching and found time to teach classes even as he fulfilled his duties as department chair, regarding that as his true calling. John Pratt wrote, published, or edited more than eighteen books, and numerous scholarly articles, poems, and book reviews. After stepping down as department chair in 1980 and another Fulbright fellowship to the (then) University of Leningrad, USSR, he returned to teach as a professor at CSU until his retirement in 2002. (Read his obituary for more about his life.)
If you haven’t already, you should read this recent interview with him. Communications Coordinator Jill Salahub also collected the following memories from various students and faculty who’d worked with John over the years.
“John strongly believed that administrators should also teach in order to stay close to the needs and interests of students. He enjoyed telling the story of how he once interviewed for a deanship at a west coast university. When told that deans and associate deans at that institution did not typically teach, John said he responded immediately: ‘this dean would teach!'” ~Bruce Ronda, Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Studies
“I will remember John Clark Pratt as a proud man. From my first serious encounter with him, when he wrote a peer observation of my graduate class, Theories of Teaching Literature, to the last, when he spoke at a reception for Yusef Komunyakaa in April of 2016, I could tell that he cared deeply about the quality of the department and our alumni. In the intervening 20-plus years, three images stand out. Annually, on Veteran’s Day, John would wear his military uniform. It always fit and he wore it proudly. His bearing and his leadership revealed his military background. The second image is of his coming to my office soon after I became chair and giving me advice: ‘I learned in the Air Force that the leader should be preparing his successor from the first day. That’s what I did and that’s what I advise you to do.’ The third is when he brought me a set of autographed books written by department faculty. Although he was not in good health, he refused my help and carted them to ‘Revitalized Eddy.’ They are now in our display case, a reminder of his service and influence on the history of the Department of English.” ~Louann Reid, English Department Professor and Chair
“Dr. Pratt was chairman of the department when I was a graduate student and I had him for a class as an undergraduate. We stayed in distant contact over the years; he always took an interest in what I was doing. In fact, only a few years ago, I had a poem on display in the Loveland Museum and Gallery; he saw it and called to say he thought that I was doing important work. He was just like that. I would often see him at gallery openings; he was very interested in the visual arts as well as literature.
I have not forgotten that when we read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest in his class that he included a question on the exam that would expose whether we had actually read the book or substituted watching the movie. Tricky guy!
Finally, I admit to being a little clueless about such things, but I was surprised to learn (at his service) how long he had been with cancer. He never let on, just dealt with it. That is not the only way to cope, I think, but it was his way. I agree with the minister at the service that John did, after Dylan Thomas, ‘not go gentle into that good night,’ but rather lived every day he had. I think he would have agreed with Annie Dillard, that you might as well spend your afternoon because you can’t take it with you.
Having been to SE Asia last year, I have been longing for a definitive book about the Vietnam War. It was right under my nose all along, and I have checked it out from the library: Pratt’s Vietnam Voices. I am looking forward to keeping this good man in my life a little longer.” ~Beth Lechleitner, English Department Senior Teaching Faculty
“Thanks to John’s invitation to advise Honors English majors, I enjoyed many happy years advising some amazing students, and being involved in the Honors Program. He was very active with it.” ~Barb Sebek, English Department Professor
“As an undergraduate English major and honors student at CSU, I was assigned Dr. John Clark Pratt as my academic advisor. I think we both admired one another from the start, a feeling that only continued and deepened over the years as our relationship evolved into a very sweet friendship. I have such fond memories of many meetings in his office in Eddy Hall, discussing Hemingway and also my plans at CSU and beyond. My fondest memories of John, though, are from the years after I graduated from CSU, when he became ‘John’ to me, rather than ‘Dr. Pratt.’ We often met for lunch at the Bluebird, and he always ordered the same meal – mandaberry waffles – and enjoyed it thoroughly each time. We would talk of his time in Portugal, his visits to Alaska to spend time with family, his cabin in Fairplay, his adventures in trying to find a publisher for American Affairs, and also of my work, my family, and all the various ins and outs of life. John’s gentle presence and love of life kept me grounded and always reminded me to stay focused on what matters – family, friends, and a delight in living. He was such a treasure, and I am honored to have known him as a mentor and a friend. I miss him very much.” ~Beth Hasbrouck, Academic English Program Coordinator, INTO Colorado State University