Remembering John Pilkington, ‘Champion of Libraries’

Distinguished professor John Pilkington is remembered for his dedication to the university community.

Following the passing of revered professor John Pilkington, the university community has remained dedicated to advancing the cause the scholar spent decades championing — the continued support of the J.D. Williams Library.


Through the John Pilkington Library Endowment, Pilkington’s legacy continues to strengthen the library, which Pilkington believed to be the heart of the university.


“All the university library staff are saddened by Dr. Pilkington’s passing,” said University Libraries Dean Julia Rholes. “He was a steadfast champion of the libraries. As a scholar and teacher, Dr. Pilkington believed that you could not have a great university without a strong library collection, and as president of the Friends of the Library, he worked tirelessly for years to help build our collections.”



During his 33-year teaching career at UM, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English influenced students, inspired colleagues, filled key leadership roles and made immeasurable contributions to the library.


Pilkington, 93, died June 4 in his home in Oxford. The professor is remembered as a beloved and devoted UM friend and supporter.


“It’s hard to imagine Ole Miss without John Pilkington,” said Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat. “In addition to being a much-loved and respected professor, he and his longtime friend Dr. (Charles) Noyes were the leaders in seeking much-needed support for the J.D. Williams Library, and it’s hard to remember a time when we were not receiving letters asking for donations for books and other support. I knew many of his students, and they loved and respected him.”


Pilkington became involved with the Friends of the Library soon after joining the university and remained active in the annual giving club for more than 50 years, said Rholes. The professor served as president of the Friends for 30 years.


Following his retirement in 1985, he continued his early efforts, raising funds and finding friends to help the library.


Rholes said Pilkington had a great impact on the humanities collections at the library. In addition to funds raised by the Friends, which went to purchase books for the entire collection, an endowment in his name helped purchase even more books for the humanities collections.


Pilkington was senior professor of American literature in the Department of English from 1952 to 1985, where he taught one of the first university courses devoted solely to William Faulkner and helped established the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference. He designed new classes, directed doctoral dissertations and master’s theses, and developed and taught correspondence courses, for which he won a major award from the National University Extension Association. He was honored for his service to the library in 2009 with the dedication of the John Pilkington Study Room, a project spearheaded by Rholes and his longtime friends.


Pilkington held a bachelor’s degree with highest honors from Centre College, with majors in English, history and French. He attended Johns Hopkins University as a graduate student in English for the academic year 1940-41. Early in 1942, he was commissioned in the Naval Reserve and served throughout the war, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. He soon continued his graduate studies at Harvard, earning both master’s and doctoral degrees.


Among those in Pilkington’s university family who knew him best is Gerald Walton, his former student and later faculty colleague.


“John was well educated, a lover of learning at all levels, a distinguished scholar, a lively and humorous conversationalist, a world traveler, a devoted friend of the library, a thoughtful and considerate colleague, and a really, really good friend,” said Walton, provost and professor emeritus of English. “The Oxford-University community will miss him greatly.”


In 1977, Pilkington was named one of the university’s first two Distinguished Professors. He was recognized for his extraordinary service, which included everything from serving as amateur architect for Bishop Hall to developing the school’s first Doctor of Arts program. He served seven years as associate dean of the Graduate School, helping set school policies and maintaining its standards.


As a scholar, Pilkington published numerous articles in professional journals and served with regional and national academic organizations. His work includes The Heart of Yoknapatawpha, a study of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels; books about novelists Francis Marion Crawford and Henry Blake Fuller; a biographical and critical study of Southern literary renaissance leader and Mississippi native Stark Young; and a two-volume collection of Young’s correspondence, Stark Young: A Life in the Arts, which earned the prestigious Jules F. Landry Award and was nominated for the J. Franklin Jameson Prize.


To make a contribution to the John Pilkington Library Endowment, mail donations to the University of Mississippi Foundation, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677.