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Cultural Revolutions

Man of Letters

Thomas H. Landess, R.I.P. At 80 Tom was still producing every day more than a day’s worth of versatile work.  His sudden passing in January struck like an unexpected calamity that portends the end of an era.  We lost not only the truest of friends, but a true gentleman, a true man of letters, and almost the last of the actual students of the Vanderbilt Agrarians.

One of Tom’s many memorial tributes refers to him as an unsung hero.  Quite right.  Nearly every comment on his passing uses the word “gentleman.”  Indeed, his charm, generosity, quietly humane disposition, and firmness of principle were a model of the best of what a Southern gentleman can be.  Unsung, but liked and admired by everyone who encountered him personally in a long and active career.  Though his productivity was prodigious, Tom never seemed ruffled and always had time, patience, and openness for a friend, a promising young person, or a worthwhile cause.

He began as a literary scholar.  In 1982 he resigned as dean and professor of English at the University of Dallas and returned to South Carolina to make a living as a writer, at which, after a time, he succeeded.  A bibliography of Landess’s published writings, if one could be constructed, would doubtless fill a small book.  Truth to tell, the primary motive of most of us writers is vanity—to...

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