It was with profound sadness that we learned of the death on March 29 of Thomas F. (Tom) Staley. It is with equally profound gratitude that we look back on his long and extraordinarily rich and productive life, or perhaps better, lives. There is no-one within our Joyce community who is not, directly or indirectly, in his debt. Among so many other things, Staley was the founder and long-time editor of both the James Joyce Quarterly and the James Joyce Studies Annual. He was also co-founder, with Bernard Benstock and Fritz Senn, of our International James Joyce Foundation and served as its first President. He was also until his death an honorary Trustee.
The spirit of those founding fathers is still very much what drives the Joyce foundation today: “to encourage scholarship, criticism, and study in regard to the life, work and career of James Joyce, and to facilitate and coordinate ways in which people interested in his works—scholars, teachers, students, and general readers—may meet together, correspond with each other, learn from one another, and help each other in achieving a greater appreciation and understanding of his work.”
I was fortunate to come to know Tom a little in the nineties and in advance of and during the 2002 Trieste Joyce Symposium where we met for breakfast in the very grand Savoia Excelsior Hotel on the seafront. He had a special affection for Trieste having spent a year there as a Fulbright Scholar in 1966-1967. He was always happy to return to the Adriatic city and was one of the few to realise, early on, of its central importance in Joyce’s writing (and to modernism more in general). He was a much appreciated plenary speaker at the 2002 symposium there.
A couple of years earlier, I had the good fortune to spend a couple of weeks at the McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa, where I reaped the benefits of the extraordinary collection of Joyce materials that Staley had gathered there (including the Richard Ellmann papers). In 2007, as a Mellon fellow at the Harry Ransom Centre, I once again looked in awe at the Joyce collection that he had assembled (and at the Stuart Gilbert papers in particular). Staley served for 25 years as director of the Ransom Centre and turned it into a major archival hub for Joyce studies but not only. It also hosts the papers of over one hundred major contemporary authors and many more from the past following his belief that “a library is built upon a fundamental optimism, a belief that it is essential to know the past in order to understand the present and to better anticipate the future.”
Tom Staley’s work—as English professor, scholar, editor, Joyce pioneer—is unrivaled and the entire Joyce community is hugely in his debt. His legacy will live on. He will be remembered as a passionate and brilliant pioneer of global Joyce Studies. May he rest in peace and may his widow, family, and friends find solace in their many memories of him.
By John McCourt