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Obituary
Julian Boyd

21 April 2005


Julian Boyd (Photo courtesy the Boyd family)
Julian C. Boyd, professor emeritus of English and a 1993 winner of the campus Distinguished Teaching Award, died of cancer on April 5 at his Berkeley home. He was 73.

A native of Bogalusa, La., Boyd earned a Ph.D. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan in 1965. He joined Berkeley's English department as a linguist in 1964 and retired 30 years later. Boyd also taught in the 1970s and '80s at the Graduate Theological Union near campus. Shortly before his death, he taught a correspondence course through UC Berkeley Extension.

Boyd developed expertise in the day-to-day use of English and the modal auxiliary "helping" verbs that are used with main verbs to express shades of time and mood. He provided expert testimony and research about the meaning of words in about 40 court cases, including murder trials, and wrote numerous articles about language and meaning.

Family members described Boyd as a "true Southern storyteller" who talked about the meaning of language and how to pay careful attention to grammar and speech.

"He was always iconoclastic and irreverent," said his wife, Melanie Lewis, "with a love for philosophy, classical music, and talk; with a radiant smile and ferocious intelligence - a man who flung himself at the world."

When Boyd was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award, he wrote that he took seriously the idea that teachers are role models for their students. "I try to present myself to them as someone who enjoys doing what he's doing, who loves learning, who loves teaching, who is compassionate, and who listens," he wrote in response to the award.

"The only way I have found to teach what I call philosophical grammar is through painstaking analyses of individual sentences," Boyd wrote. "This means lengthy, tactful, and ... patient questioning and listening . Sometimes getting the students to notice and to make distinctions requires drastic means, and I am not above trying to startle, and even confound."

Professor Emeritus of English Frederick Crews said he was on the panel that picked the Distinguished Teaching Award the year Boyd was chosen. "In several years' service on that committee, and in 31 years on the tenure staff of the English department, I never saw a set of comparable evaluations," Crews recalled. "Julian's students unanimously adored him....Nearly all of them said the same thing: taking a course from Julian was a life-changing event and the apex of their Berkeley experience."

Boyd is survived by his wife of 23 years, Melanie Lewis; sons Stephen Boyd of Palo Alto and Michael Boyd of Santa Monica; a sister, Elizabeth Boyd Aldrich of Richmond, Va.; and four grandchildren.

The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, P.O. Box 24590, Oakland, CA 94623.

The English department will hold a memorial service for Boyd at 3 p.m., Saturday, May 7, in 315 Wheeler Hall. A reception will follow.