Trinity College's Andy Orchard bound for Oxford

Sub-title: 
Leading Anglo-Saxon expert hopes to strengthen ties between schools
Author: 
Brianna Goldberg

Beloved literary scholar and administrator  Andy Orchard is leaving  the University of Toronto for a prestigious role at the University of Oxford – one previously held by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“The Rawlinson and Bosworth Professorship in Anglo-Saxon at Oxford is the oldest and most prestigious position in the world in my field and the only job that would have lured me away from U of T,” said Orchard.

The position Orchard takes at Pembroke College was established in 1795 and places him at the centre of literary history.

“At Pembroke I shall have rooms in the tower that were once occupied by Samuel Johnson, who wrote the milestone Dictionary of the English Language in 1755,” said Orchard. “The primary pull of Oxford is purely romantic, perhaps, but I have some pretty practical plans to shake up the place too, so I hope they know what they are getting.”

Orchard is known as a multi-talented force at U of T.

“We are, of course, sad to see such a distinguished scholar, inspiring teacher and gifted administrator leave the University of Toronto,” said Meric Gertler, dean of Arts & Science and future president of the University of Toronto. “Andy is a stellar figure in the field of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic languages and literatures.

“Both the Faculty of Arts & Science and Trinity College will miss him very much, but this is a wonderful affirmation of Andy’s scholarly achievements, and I wish him all the best in his new role.”

For student Jake Brockman, chair of the Trinity College Meeting, the student government of Trinity College, Orchard has been a mentor and an inspiration.

"Andy leaves a monumental task to his successor," said Brockman, who graduates this spring. "From attending the major student galas and debating at theTrinity College Literary Institute, to cheering on the rugby team in their annual game against St. Mike's, Andy has fully immersed himself in the life of the college.

"He commands the respect and admiration of the student body because of his ability to connect with students from the minute he addresses them during Frosh Week. He and his wife Clare will be greatly missed by everyone at Trinity."

Orchard’s colleagues also spoke of his ability to build community while providing strong leadership.

“From the beginning of his Provostship, he has had great rapport with our students—to them, he has always been ‘Andy,’” said Derek Allen, dean of arts and vice-provost of Trinity from 1996 to 2012. “They have delighted in his ‘Beer and Beowulf’ evenings and in his wit and wordplay. He has been an upbeat leader for the college with a light touch that we have all been grateful for, and his academic distinction has done us proud."

John Magee, director of the Centre of Medieval Studies, described Orchard as “a thoroughbred: fleet, solitary, beautiful to watch run.

“Those among our students who reflect on this change may perhaps take some pleasure in thinking that one of his or her U of T professors is now to be, you might say, a Lord of the Rings,” said Magee. “There's no replacing such a scholar and teacher, but we'll make every effort to sustain the scholarly standards exemplified by Andy.

Although I'll miss him, I'm very happy for him and wish him and his family every success in Oxford.”

One of Orchard’s closest colleagues, Professor Antonette di Paolo Healey is the editor of the Dictionary of Old English. Healey said she’s been continually inspired by his work with her as well as with the many graduate students he supervises.

“What has most impressed me about Andy is his skill at enabling students to reach a higher standard than they thought possible," she said. "And he does this, it seems to me, by communicating to them his really fierce belief in their ability to excel. Because he believes in them, they believe in themselves, and then they outperform.

“He’s so brilliant, and yet he wears his learning lightly,” she said. “I know it’s our loss here in Toronto. As an Anglo-Saxonist, though, I honestly feel it’s a gain for the world of Anglo-Saxon studies because we all look to Oxford and to the Rawlinson and Bosworth chair as the touchstone for how well our field is doing. And with Andy there in the chair, I think we can do no better. So at least in terms of my field, I feel all is well.”

While the Dictionary of Old English is an attractive asset at the University of Toronto, Orchard — who studied at Oxford and both studied and taught at Cambridge — said it was not only the only project that drew him to Toronto.

"My 13 years at U of T have been wonderful for me and mine," said Orchard. "I came here because the Centre for Medieval Studies is the biggest graduate program of its kind in the world, because its Latin program ensures a level of shared commitment and training unparalleled elsewhere, and also because the Dictionary of Old English project is the single most important in my field. Long may they thrive.

“I have learned much from these aspects of this mighty university, as well as from many fine colleagues and superb students (especially at Trinity), and I shall carry many lessons learned in all these areas back to the dreaming spires from this 'great good place'.”

Orchard said he hopes to continue to build ties between U of T and Oxford following his move.

“Relationships between U of T and Oxford (and Cambridge, for that matter) are warm, with many people at both places having strong links to each,” he said. “The depth of my feeling for both Oxford and U of T leads me to hope that I can help strengthen those existing links in any way I can.”

And, while it’s easy to be nostalgic about the places he’ll miss at U of T, “it is the people that leave the larger holes,” he said.

“I have been greatly touched in the past few days by the warmth and support of a wide range of folks, both at Trinity and U of T, from first-year undergraduates to the President himself, from maintenance staff to some of our most illustrious alums, and for their understanding of what this move means not just to me, but to my whole family. My deepest thanks to them all.”