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Honouring Robert (Bob) Byrnes

Robert Thomas Byrnes – In Memoriam

It is with great sadness that we inform our students of the passing of Professor Robert Byrnes on September 18, 2020 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Read more remembrances here and here

Bob Byrnes was a gifted, warm, and witty provocateur in and out of the classroom.  He had a booming laugh that was impossible not to join and a rich fund of stories about everything and anything, beginning with James Joyce. I spent decades exchanging Joycean phrases with him in the hall: Ineluctable modality of the visible, he’d murmur at me; The snow was general all over Ireland, I’d reply, invoking the mutinous Shannon, to which he’d nod, falling faintly, faintly falling.

And then more of that roaring laughter.  It is almost impossible to understand, and it is impossible to accept that he’s gone.

~Neil Besner, Professor Emeritus, Provost and Vice-President, Academic

Bob was a dedicated and recognized James Joyce scholar, and this expertise informed his brilliant and generous teaching.  He contributed to growing the department curriculum, by designing these signature courses: New Journalism, Orality and Literacy, and Revolutions in Communication.

He also put a firm stamp on Professional Style and Editing and, more recently, Rhetorics of Non-fiction. Along with teaching upper year courses, he also taught--"coached"-- hundreds of students in Academic Writing. Colleagues and students alike will miss his strong character and high standards.

~Jaqueline McLeod Rogers, Department Chair and Professor

I first met Dr. Bob Byrnes about four and a half years ago. Since then, we shared several coffees together, and each time he always asked for me to tell him about my research. His interest was genuine, and our discussions would always branch off and explore diverse areas of literature and culture. Whenever my partner Angela, our son Oliver, and I would bump into Bob at Grant Park Mall, he would also show genuine interest in our family. Dr. Byrnes will be remembered by our family as a scholar who cared deeply for both scholarship and community.

~Andrew McGillivray, Assistant Professor

How saddened we all were to hear of Bob's passing and we will miss him dearly. Bob was a genuine, generous, and kind human being. In one of my classes I was teaching one term, the topic we were talking about one day was teachers that had a big impact on the students. The most often mentioned teacher that had an impact on the students in that class was Bob Byrnes. The students shared incident after incident that highlighted what an amazing educator Bob was. Farewell dear colleague. We miss your hearty laugh, your generosity, and genuine collegiality. 

~Helen Lepp Friesen, Ph.D.

I will remember Bob Byrnes for three things: his passion for teaching, his love of debate, and his unusual generosity towards others. Bob treated me to lunch more times than I can remember. He relished the opportunity to talk ideas and politics over lunch at Stella's or Homer's. As I've recently learned, he extended this generosity to many others, a testament to his character. Bob's passing is a loss for the department. He will be missed.

~Jason Hannan, Associate Professor

Bob was with me on one of the loveliest days of my life. As some of you know, Bob piloted small aircraft, and he asked me if I would like to go up with him in a Cessna. It was a cold, sun-sharp February afternoon when we flew. What Bob didn't know was that just that morning I learned I was going to have a baby. Bob and I flew over the sparkling prairie fields, me new in the knowledge that my life was never going to be the same again. Bob will always be there with me in that memory.

~Tracy Whalen, Associate Professor

Bob Byrnes was both a colleague of mine and one of my professors during my undergraduate degree here at the U of W. Throughout all of my university education, it was Bob’s courses that stand out as the most memorable and influential to me. In The Rhetoric of Non-Fiction: New Journalism of The Sixties he introduced us to the creative non-fiction of Didion, Capote, Thompson, and Krakauer - authors who remain to this day some of my favourites. We studied their books and I fell in love with this genre of writing - the incredible skill illustrated in Slouching Towards Bethlehem or the clever nuance of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He taught us how these writers immersed themselves in an environment to better write their experiences with other people - “truth is in the details of real lives.” In Professional Style and Editing I learned how to become a better writer and editor, evolving from editing by ‘feel’ to learning how construct sentences and spot inconsistencies. Bob’s teaching style was relaxed and approachable - there were no stupid questions in his classes and he always had time to talk during his office hours. After grad school I came back to the U of W to teach and would see Bob in the Rhetoric Department hallways, a towering man, never in a rush, who always had the time to stop and say hi and ask how classes were going. I not only learned so much about writing, editing, critical reading, and the discovery of new writers through Bob’s teaching, but have tried to emulate his teaching style in my own courses.

~Jessica Antony, Contract Faculty

I found out earlier today about Bob’s passing. I used to teach in the Department of Philosophy. Bob and I continued our exhausting arguments after I left in 2009, discussing philosophy, politics, and many controversial issues at least two times a year. I last spoke with Bob in the Spring and, as we have for a decade, expected to catch up before Christmas. Alas, his phone was disconnected and a quick search on Google revealed the sad news. I read the many tributes, some from students. I know that Bob took teaching very seriously but was moved to learn that so many report transformational experiences in his classes. Not surprising. It’s a testament to Bob's commitment to education--and the genuine care he had for those he taught over years. I'll miss our conversations and do wish I had known in Spring that it was the last time we'd not see eye-to-eye.

~Karim Dharami, Professor of Philosophy, Mount Royal University