John Bugge, co-founder of Emory Emeritus College, remembered for warmth, leadership

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Dec. 5, 2018

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English professor emeritus John Bugge, known for supporting both students and fellow faculty members, will be remembered at a public memorial service Dec. 8 in Cannon Chapel.

John Bugge, professor emeritus of English and co-founder of the Emory University Emeritus College, died Nov. 5 from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. He was 77.

Family and friends will host a memorial service for Bugge on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 11 a.m. in Emory’s Cannon Chapel. The service is open to the public and will be followed with a reception in the area downstairs.

Bugge arrived at Emory in 1968 as a medievalist who specialized in Chaucer and the Arthurian tradition and authored and edited two books on the era’s literature. He was known for his warmth in the classroom, winning the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award twice, as well as a Crystal Apple award for teaching excellence. 

Bugge was equally welcoming to new faculty, says Benjamin Reiss, professor and chair of the Department of English, who worked closely with him mentoring graduate students for career placement.

He was inviting about his passion for medieval literature, a sincerity that drew people in, Reiss says. He was also direct, like the moment at a concert following his retirement when he spotted Reiss and told him to expect to be asked to become department chair — and then to say yes.

“I couldn’t resist, having John tell me that,” says Reiss, who became chair last year. “First, it was sort of a reminder that I have a responsibility to service. But it also said to me that he trusted me and had faith in me, which was a very poignant moment for me, because I so looked up to him.” 

When Michael A. Elliott, dean of Emory College, joined the English department in 1998, Bugge “was clearly one of its guiding spirits,” says Elliott, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of English. “Like many others in English, I knew him first-hand as a generous colleague: witty, warm and optimistic at every turn.”

Bugge’s commitment to faculty, especially those retiring from the academy, is likely to be his Emory legacy. He worked with Emeritus College co-founder Gene Bianchi for three years before its founding in 2001, a full decade before Bugge retired himself. 

He briefly served as its director in 2012, before becoming chair of its executive committee from 2013 until his death. In 2013, Bugge also received the Distinguished Emeritus Award for his contributions. 

Since its creation, the Emeritus College has served as a model for other colleges and universities to engage retired faculty. At Emory, it has hosted interdisciplinary lectures, held mentorship training and, just this fall, hosted the national conference of the Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education. Bugge served as chair of the planning committee for the conference.

“He really put Emory at the forefront of faculty retirement organizations that, as he always said, focused on the life of the mind,” says Gray Crouse, a biology professor and current director of the Emeritus College. “He cared very much about Emory, the Emeritus College and our people. And everyone thought very highly of John. He will be missed.” 

For 15 years, Bugge served as president of the Emory Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He received his B.A. from Marquette University, his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and he was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Germany and a Danforth Graduate Fellowship.

Bugge is survived by his wife, Liza Davis, and two sons.