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Prof. Richard King Remembered as Mentor and Peacemaker

Richard Douglass King, associate professor of history and an expert on Russian history, is remembered by students and colleagues as an unassuming but passionate mentor.

“It is always a great loss for our community when we lose a member of the faculty,” said Dean Terry Winegar. “Richard King was an engaged teacher, an active scholar, and a highly contributing member of our campus community particularly with his work with Phi Beta Kappa and as faculty parliamentarian. His loss will be felt beyond the history department and across generations of Ursinus students.”

King, who died Monday, Feb. 8, at his home after an illness, was the first recipient of the H. Lloyd Jones Award for faculty mentoring in 2002. Dr. King, interviewed after winning the award, said that “that there is a lot more to advising than helping students choose courses. It’s trying to advise them on the direction they see their life taking and how college and the first post-college experience they’re going to have in the next couple of years is going to fit in with their broad plans and dreams.”

Last March, King was instrumental in Christopher Goss ’15 being selected as a Fulbright Fellow to teach in Turkey. “There was something special about Dr. King that always effortlessly put me at ease when we met,” wrote Goss from Turkey. “It may have been that he always seemed to enjoy being at work even when he was complaining about something …Perhaps it was the chaotic coziness of his office with its seemingly haphazard stacks of books, although he never failed to surprise me when he knew exactly which stack contained that book that just might help with some paper.” He added that King “made me want to find a profession that I loved even half as much. If there was one thing I’m sure most students gained from their experiences with Dr. King it might not been Russian history but the passion and dedication that he brought to the school. At the very least it was for me, and I’m deeply grateful to him for that.”

The H. Lloyd Jones Award came on the heels of the announcement of Ursinus’s first Watson Fellow, Aaron Ranck ’02, who credited King with encouraging him “to accept nothing less than excellence in [himself], to reach out and take chances and to aim as high as possible.”

King was an expert on Russian history and was the author of Sergei Kirov and the Struggle for Soviet Power in the Terek Region 1917 -1918, published in 1987.

Colleague Ross Doughty, professor of history, recalled that King was an unassuming and “easygoing guy but he cared immensely about the department.” When there was a need to negotiate between opposing sides, King “was a voice of compromise.”

Doughty said that King’s faculty office in Olin was “legendary” for its books so tightly packed in it that he sometimes had to meet students in the lounge. His books reflected his interests in Russian history and early modern and modern European history, and the history of the Middle East. “He kept up very well with recent scholarship,” Doughty said. “He didn’t read book reviews, he read the books.”

King, who was born Sept. 16, 1950, earned his Ph.D at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana (where he became a fan of the Chicago Cubs), and his M.A. and B.A. degrees at Michigan State University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Prior to joining the History Department at Ursinus College in 1988, he was a visiting assistant professor at Middlebury College, Memphis State University, and St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. He traveled extensively in the Soviet Union, Western Europe and China, and co-led the Ursinus in London program. 

At Ursinus, King served as the faculty parliamentarian for a number of years and was instrumental in the founding of the Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa International, recently serving as Chapter Secretary. His signature courses, “Empires and Nations” and “The Arab-Israeli Conflict” regularly had waiting lists.  

King is survived by his wife, Lan Xia King. 

A celebration of King’s life will be held on February 27 at 2 p.m. in Bomberger Hall on the campus of Ursinus College. A reception will follow in the Berman Museum of Art. Arrangements are by the Moore, Snear, Ruggiero Funeral Home & Crematory in Trappe (www.msrfh.com)

For those wishing to honor Richard King, the family requests that donations be made to Ursinus College. In keeping with Professor King’s deep love of and mentoring of students, memorial gifts will be directed to student enrichment programs in history. Checks made out to Ursinus College can be sent to Laura Armstrong, Office of Advancement, 601 E. Main Street, Collegeville, PA 19426.  Donations may also be made online at www.ursinus.edu/makegift by selecting “Richard King Memorial.”