Jens Rieckmann

Professsor Jens Rieckmann died in his home in Amherst on December 8 of congestive heart failure.

He was born in Germany, in the city of Hamburg, in 1944. When towards the end of the second World War the family home was destroyed in a bombing raid, he moved with his mother and sister to live with grandparents in the North-German town of Luneburg.

He first learned English from talking with the British soldiers who were stationed in the town, and because he was in the British zone of occupation at the end of the war he could also listen to BBC radio and watch British television. Thus by the time he entered the University of Gottingen he was fluent in English, which he spoke in a British accent. At the university he majored in English and German literature and in America he continued his studies at Harvard, from which he received a Ph. D. in 1975.

Embarked now on the career of college teaching, he was successively a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of California in Irvine, CA. He was a brilliantly successful teacher, both demanding and supportive, and many of his students remained lifelong friends.

His three books, twenty-two articles, and numerous book reviews broke new ground in their fields and are still fundamental in their fields.

Towards the end of his career he served as Chair of the German Department at the University of California, and throughout his career he also was active on editorial boards of various journals.

In 2004 he retired and moved with his long-time companion David Perkins to Amherst, moving into and restoring an old farm house which had previously been used as a summer place. Among the reasons that he preferred New Hampshire to California was that the landscape, small towns, and ways of life reminded him of Europe as it was when he was growing up.

In retirement he threw himself into supporting the Democratic party as a campaigner, letter writer, and eventually as a member of the Board of Amherst Democrats.

In person, Professor Rieckmann was courteous, kind, caring and loyal, with a sharp mind and a subtle wit. He was fond of gardening, had a long succession of loved animal pets and took a great interest in the multifarious wildlife in our area. A constant reader, he especially liked history, biography, and fiction, with detective novels at bedtime.

During his last hours his closest friends were at his bedside. Awakening with a smile, he said, “You’re all here!”