GALLIPOLIS – Dr. Joanne Ford was a “beloved and respected” educator, both with her students and colleagues at the University Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College.
Ford, who retired in 2014 as professor of English from the university, unexpectedly passed away Oct. 5 outside the classroom where she had taught for a better portion of her 41 years with the university, according to Gina Pines, adjunct professor of humanities and English at URG. Pines added that Ford is believed to have died because of sudden heart failure.
“She had been in fine condition and had no heart issues,” she said.
Ford’s life will be celebrated Oct. 21 in the Fine Arts Building on the URG campus. Titled “A Happening: Honoring and Celebrating the Life of Joanne Ford” will begin at 5:30 p.m. with refreshments and a performance by world-renowned singer-songwriter Steve Free.
At 6:15 p.m. the “celebration” of her life will begin with poetry readings, performances and remarks by loved ones.
The retired professor had recently returned to the URG/RGCC campus part-time to teach composition and creative writing courses.
“Joanne Ford was, without question, one of the most beloved and respected professors at the university throughout her 44 years (1971-2014) of teaching,” Pines said. “Hers was the office that some of the best and brightest students flocked to; would hang out in and discuss everything from classic literature to philosophy — Freud to film analysis — to share their own creative writing or their own personal issues or to discuss the great masters of art. She was many things to students — a refuge for the creative, free thinking and/or marginalized students.”
Pines said she has been charged with taking care of Ford’s estate because the late professor had no remaining biological family. She said she and Ford became close over the past two-and-a-half decades.
“Joanne and I were, for the past 24 years, mother and daughter in all ways — but blood,” she said. “The loss that the entire campus and community feels is severe. The outpouring of grief and shock by students campus-wide has been overwhelming.”
Per her wishes, Ford did not have a funeral service. Ford instead had her remains donated to the Ohio University Medical Research lab so that, as Pines put it, “she could provide a way for students to learn. This was her way.”
Ford was also a professional poet, having published her works – Elephant Ears, a small poetry collection published in 1985, and Eros Operatica, a 198-page anthology of her poetry — that can be found on amazon.com.
Ford was born in 1944 in Iowa and moved with her parents to Gallipolis when she was a young child. She graduated from Gallia Academy High School in 1963. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Ohio University in 1968, 1969 and 1996, respectively.
Ford joined the URG faculty in August 1973 as an instructor of communications and English. She received tenure status in May 1977 and was promoted to assistant professor of English the same month.
Ford retired in May 2014 and was awarded Faculty Emeritus status in order to recognize her years of dedication to URG.
Pines said Ford always possessed high academic standards of her students.
“She pushed students to break free from their knee-jerk reactions and ideas that they had not fully examined honestly,” she said. “She was an animated and highly involved professor. Many students compared her to the character played by Robin Williams in ‘The Dead Poet’s Society.’”
Pines called her “a rebel but never without a cause and every bit a child of the 1960s.”
“She was passionate about opera, film, poetry and literature, cats and elephants and most of all her students — many of whom became her family,” Pines said.
Michael Johnson can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.