CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Charles Townsend Ludington Jr., “Towny”, professor emeritus of English and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, died of renal failure in hospice care in Pittsboro, North Carolina, on November 4, 2021.
Born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Ludington moved to Old Lyme, Connecticut at age three. Education, both his own and that of his students, was the constant theme in his life. He was sent to boarding school at age ten, first to the Adirondack-Florida School, which after two years ceased to migrate seasonally and became the Ransom School in Miami.
At age 16 he went to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and from there went to Yale University where he played varsity soccer, sang in the Alley Cats, and majored in English. Ludington’s Exeter and college educations were made possible by extended family, family friends, and work-study grants, something that made him particularly appreciative of the financial difficulties faced by many students and their families.
His first stop after graduation was officer training school in Quantico, Virginia. Before being based at Air Station El Toro, near Irvine, California, Ludington married Harriet Jane Ross of Tenafly, New Jersey, in Feburary, 1958. They had met when he took a ski trip to Middlebury, Vermont, where she was in college.
After three years in the Marine Corps, Ludington returned to Ransom School in Miami, where for two years he taught English, coached school athletic teams in every season, and did anything else his uncle, the headmaster, could get him to do.
Between 1962 and 1967, he attended Duke University, where he received his master’s degree and PhD, and upon completion he took a job in the English department at the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the institution he loved from the beginning, and the town he embraced as his home.
At UNC, Ludington combined all his interests in his many services to the university. He was director of the American Studies Curriculum in its infancy and grew it into the American Studies Department. Under his leadership the Black Studies program (now the Department of African, African-American and Diaspora Studies) was added to the Curriculum, as was the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program.
He served as Chairman of the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense, was the chair of the University Athletics Committee, and chaired and sat on dozens of department and university committees and was a member of the Board of Governors of UNC Press for nineteen years.
Ludington received a Fulbright Award to teach in Lyon, France in 1971-72, held visiting lectureships at Ulster, Northern Ireland, and Tübingen, Germany, and was a visiting professor at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 1988-89.
From 1980 to 1982, he was the Resident Scholar in American Studies at the U.S. International Communications Agency in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, he managed U.S. Government foreign cultural and exchange activities around the world.
When he returned to Chapel Hill in 1982, he was made Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies, the position he held until his retirement in 2004.
An outstanding scholar, Ludington was awarded grants and fellowships from the Fulbright Program, the American Philosophical Society, the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale University, and the National Humanities Center.
Along with myriad articles on American literature, art, and culture, his published works included John Dos Passos: A Twentieth Century Odyssey (1980), Marsden Hartley: The Biography of an American Artist (1992), and Seeking the Spiritual: The Paintings of Marsden Hartley (1998). In addition, he edited eight volumes, including The Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos (1973). Ludington’s proudest professional accomplishment, however, was being a teacher, and he was beloved by many undergraduate and graduate students at UNC.
Ludington loved sports. At Exeter he made the varsity basketball team having never played before, in part, no doubt, because he was 6’6″; likewise, he played varsity soccer at Yale. The team needed a big, athletic fullback, regardless of skill level, and he fit the bill.
He was an avid tennis player with a powerful left-handed serve, and later he turned from tennis to golf, which he continued to play until the last year of his life.
As part of his love of sports, he liked to turn anything into a contest, whether it was sinking a putt, throwing a wadded piece of paper into a waste basket, or holding a raffle for the last piece of cake at the dinner table.
He was also a lifelong, ardent fan of his “hometown” Philadelphia Phillies.
In retirement he trekked to Clearwater, Florida every year to watch the team in Spring Training. Although he was a computer Luddite, he got live updates on scores and trades on his desktop. He said that being a Phillies fan taught him that in life you lose more games than you win.
In his later years he enjoyed the more tranquil pursuits of sailing in the Long Island Sound and piloting his small motorboat around the mouth of the Connecticut River. One of his greatest joys was watching his grandchildren play sports. He rarely missed a game, arrived early, cheered hard, was lifted by victory and crushed by defeat.
He is survived by his wife Jane, his children David Ludington, Chad (Sarah) Ludington, Jamie (Rhiannon) Ludington, and Sarah Ludington (Daric Schlesselman), his grandchildren Liam, Jasper, Nathan, Chloe, Josie, Sybil and James, and his sister, Constance Drayton, of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He will be missed.
A memorial service celebrating his life will be held on Saturday, November 20th, at Graham Memorial Hall on the UNC campus, at 10am.
Donations in his memory can be given to the Carolina Firsts Fund (#102420), for first generation college students at UNC, or to the Townsend Ludington Distinguished Professorship in American Studies (#101479), which is a chaired professorship founded by former students upon his retirement. Gifts can be made online at giving.unc.edu/gift, or by check made payable to “UNC-Chapel Hill” (please designate area you wish to support in memo line) and mail to:
UNC Arts & Sciences Foundation, 523 East Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514