Robert Cherry Foy II taught English for nearly 28 years at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, establishing a legacy as one of the top professors of Shakespearean literature in Minnesota.
Even in retirement, the St. Paul resident continued to focus on the Bard — getting inked images of Shakespeare tattooed all over his arms.
“ ‘Shakespeare teaches you about love and power. And that’s all you need to know,’ ” said Malinda Foy, 48, paraphrasing her father. “He had a sense of what people should aspire to and what was worth doing, and he inspired people to do them. I think he was very inspirational to people, as opposed to being pushy and saying, ‘You should.’ ”
Foy died of complications from lung disease on May 1. He was 78.
Born in Atlanta on Jan. 3, 1935, he was a bookish youth who started college at age 16, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English from Emory University in 1955. He went on to serve nearly three years in the Air Force before attending the University of Minnesota, where he earned his doctorate in 1973.
Malinda Foy says her father turned down Harvard University to attend the U because of the high quality of its English Department at the time. Foy taught English at the U before beginning his tenure at St. Thomas. At the Catholic school in St. Paul, he served as chairman of the English Department from 1973 to ’76, and director of faculty development from 1981 to ’86.
“He was their first director of faculty development,” said Malinda Foy. “He got interested in that and providing support for the faculty to keep them growing as they were helping students grow. He developed the program and ran it.”
In the late 1980s, Foy also taught English in China and Japan, indulging a lifelong fascination with Asia. “He had a lifelong appreciation for gardening,” said his daughter. “He loved the Asian aesthetic of gardening — very simple, elegant, extremely controlled.”
After Foy’s retirement from St. Thomas and the death of his wife, Nancy Burkitt Foy, in 2002, he began getting tattoos. In addition to Shakespeare, he also got inked with Chinese dragons and sayings in Latin such as, “What will be, will be.”
“It really makes him a character,” said Foy. “He said that, ‘People get tattoos because it’s a way for them to mark on the outside that something has changed inside.’ And so after my mother died, he started getting tattoos.
“There was an internal change there. Then he got quite addicted to it. He became friends with his tattoo artist ... he got a discount for helping around the shop. So here’s my dad, this old guy. His arms were totally covered. They were beautiful in their ways, if you like tattoos.”
Foy says her father was a teacher to end, writing poetry and even inspiring his nurses to read Shakespeare sonnets.
Foy is also survived by another daughter, Elizabeth Foy Bergman, and two grandchildren. Services will be held at 10 a.m. June 1 at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul.
Rose French • 612-673-4352