Geneseo mourns loss of Distinguished Teaching Professor Bill Edgar

Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus William Edgar, 78, died Thursday Nov. 10 while in a care center in Rochester, N.Y. Edgar was a United States Army veteran of the Korean conflict and served as chair of the Geneseo philosophy department from 1978 until his retirement in 2005.

According to Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Ron Herzman, Edgar was the major driving force behind the formation of the humanities program, as well as the founder of the college honors program, known since 2008 as the Edgar Fellows Honors Program.

Edgar was awarded the State University of New York Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching twice – in 1974, the first year of the award's existence, and in 1976. He was then promoted from associate professor to distinguished teaching professor in 1979, 10 years after joining the Geneseo faculty.

"Bill's the reason I came to Geneseo," said David Levy, professor of philosophy and former Edgar Fellow from the class of ‘94. "I had applied to Binghamton [University], [SUNY] Albany and Geneseo, didn't like Binghamton after I visited and was leaning toward Albany," he said. "But then I got a letter in the mail saying I would be accepted into the honors program, and it was signed by professor Edgar. So I came up to visit, walked into the philosophy department office without making an appointment, and Bill knew my name when I introduced myself. I saw something in his eyes that convinced me that this was the right place."

After Edgar announced his retirement in 2005, Levy was hired to fill the opening left in the philosophy department.

"[Edgar] was an aggressive giver … just stunningly helpful. You'd go into his office to say hello and he'd do something for you," said Ted Everett, professor of philosophy. "He was incredibly helpful and welcoming when we came to Geneseo. I remember he gave me a tour of all of Livingston County in about 30 minutes."

"[Edgar] was really great; I had him for [the class] Minds, Dreams and Machines when I was a student here … it was a really interesting class," said Campus Auxiliary Services Assistant Manager Shayne Cooke, ‘02.    

Besides being remembered as a deservedly decorated teacher, a great mentor to students and colleagues and the generous and driven founder of the honors program, Herzman said, "Without Bill Edgar, there would have been no humanities, and without humanities, Geneseo would be a different place."

"There was a group of us that worked on humanities, but you could have taken any of the rest of us out and it would have still gotten done – not so for Bill," he said.

Herzman, Edgar and Distinguished Teaching Professor of History William Cook taught the first humanities course in 1981. After that first course, an apprenticeship system was initiated in which any professor could teach humanities after co-teaching with a faculty member who had already been trained. The college still uses this apprenticeship approach today.

The final course Edgar taught at Geneseo was a seminar on infinity – appropriate for a man who had such a far-reaching impact on the college.

"The fact is that without Bill, Geneseo would not be what it is today," said Herzman.