March 28, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Linguistics Mourns Loss of Dr. Richard McGinn

Dr. Richard McGinn, portrait

Dr. Richard “Dick” McGinn

The Linguistics Department mourns the loss of Dr. Richard “Dick” McGinn, 78, who passed away on March 26 at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital, in Athens, Ohio.

Friends, colleagues, and students will remember him for the multiple roles he embraced during a life of purpose. As a teacher, professor, mentor and scholar, he lived with compassion,  humility and humor, encouragement, and patience. He came to Ohio University in 1977 and retired in 2011.

“The Department of Linguistics want to express our deepest sympathies to the McGinn family for their loss,” said Dr. Christopher Thompson, Associate Professor and Chair. “Dick hired many of the senior faculty members in the department now and worked with us tirelessly in multiple ways until retirement. He continued to communicate with us regularly even after retirement, always interested in what was going on, delivering a funny joke or a kind word as he saw fit. His presence will be greatly missed!”

To complement what the McGinn family has already made available, the Linguistics family is currently putting together a more comprehensive memorial that reflects the professional memories and the impact that McGinn had on the department within its alumni Facebook page.

McGinn was born on Dec. 23, 1939, in Spokane, WA, to Richard and Catherine McGinn, the second of their five sons. He attended Gonzaga Prep, and Gonzaga University, after which his interest in English literature and philosophy led him toward a master’s degree in linguistics. He was in the third group of Peace Corps Volunteers, serving in the Philippines where he began studying Southeast Asian languages. This study would be the drive of his remarkable professional career, going on to receive a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in Indonesia, earn a Ph.D. from University of Hawaii, and become chair of the Ohio University Linguistics Department and Southeast-Asia studies program.

Many years after his own Fulbright experience, McGinn was a welcome face for alum Victoria Augustine, charged with managing the Fulbright programs in Indonesia and Malaysia on behalf of the State Department in 2007. It was her first business trip to New York City, and she had to deliver welcoming remarks to a panel of experts. “The first expert I noticed at the table was Dr. Richard McGinn. He jumped up and gave me a huge hug—elated to see one of his linguistics grads at the table. I was overjoyed to know that (contrary to popular belief), it isn’t only Harvard, Stanford and Yale represented in prestigious exchanges like Fulbright. Ohio University has been an active participant in the Fulbright Program for decades. They’ve hosted foreign students and scholars in Athens, sent American students and scholars abroad, and gotten involved in selection panels and expert meetings throughout the process.

“Although that first business trip was nearly a decade after my graduation, Dr. McGinn’s presence that day brought me right back to Ohio and the significance of my education at OU,” Augustine adds.

While training future Peace Corps volunteers in 1967, he fell in love with, and eventually married, Judy Rae Brooks. They raised two children, Andrew and Colleen, in Athens.

McGinn was an accomplished linguist, a wonderful father and husband, and a champion for local democracy and public health in his retired life. Working with the Athens County Bill of Rights committee, he successfully led the charge for a ballot initiative to let the public vote on whether to continue to allow Athens County to be a dump site for toxic fracking waste. While the measure was struck down multiple times by local courts and the Ohio State Supreme Court, the latest ballot initiative is currently in deliberation.

McGinn edited a high-profile volume Studies in Austronesian Linguistics, which includes top researchers of discourse-functional linguistics.

In addition to his achievements as a scholar, activist, husband and father, McGinn had an incredible variety of interests. He was an expert fisherman of Midwestern and Appalachian waters, and there was never a better spoons player in Appalachia. His interests in literature made him an avid reader across many subjects including Ohio History, modern political thought, Shakespeare, and Jung. He also won 2nd prize in the first Brewmaster competition he ever entered, and he never missed a Gonzaga basketball game. He built his own canoe out of Cedar wood, published a reader in Indonesia to preserve a disappearing language called Rejang, and saw “The Good, Bad, and the Ugly” at least 30 times. He was convinced that “the meaning of life is the spread of happiness.”

A memorial was Sunday, April 8, 4 p.m. at ArtsWest, 132 State St., Athens, Ohio.


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