North American Scholar

COMFORT, Howard

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1904-06-04
  • Born City: Haverford
  • Born State/Country: PA
  • Parents: Professor William Wistar, professor of French, & Mary Lawton Fales C.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1993-09-20
  • Married: Elizabeth Philbrook Webb, 3 June 1931.
  • Education:

    AB Haverford, 1924; MA Princeton 1927; Ph.D. 1932; fell AAR, 1927-29.

  • Professional Experience:

    Tchr Lat, Haverford School, 1924-26; Taft School (Watertown, CT) 1927; asst. prof. classics, Hamilton Coll., 1929-30; mem fac. Haverford, 1932-69; chair dept. 1958-69; coach of cricket, 1941-68; cons. Prison Industries Reorgn. Admin. Washington, 1936; dir. Rome office American Friends Service Comm., 1940; staff Human Events magazine, Washington 1944-45; cultural attaché Am embassy, Rome, 1950-51; Bern, Switzerland, 1951-52; mem. Inst Adv. Study (Princeton) 1956, 1960; founding mem. & pres. Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautores, 1957-71; hon. Pres. 1971-mgr. Harcum Jr. Coll., Bryn Mawr, PA, 1954-55; Moore Coll. Art, Philadelphia, 1960-68; Pres. APA, 1962-63.

  • Dissertation:

    "Studies in the Late Byzantine Land-Leases" (Princeton, 1932)

  • Notes:

    A birthright and active member of the Religious Society of Friends and of Haverford Monthly Meeting, Howard Comfort both spanned most of our century and reflected the history of the College in many significant ways. Born in the Philadelphia area as son of a noted professor, he spent his earliest years on campus, then moved to Ithaca, when his father became professor at Cornell. Howard graduated from the Haverford School in 1920 and from the College in 1924. Graduate study in Princeton prepared him for teaching. With the exception of one year at Hamilton College (1926), Howard's career centered on students. This period (1932-1969) brought many cataclysmic changes to the world out­side, but at Haverford he trained generations in Latin philology (for which he devised his own pioneering method based on early reading rather than endless grammar drill) and in Roman civilization, in the patient understated man­ner that was his hallmark. He always got good work out of his classes, but he understood the importance of athletics in their lives as well.A cricket player himself, Howard was on the College team and captain in his senior year. A decade later he was personally responsible for saving the sport at Haverford by agreeing to become its part-time coach in addition to his academic duties. He enhanced its position by founding and shaping the C.C. Morris Cricket Library, still a treasure on campus. Many aging alumni recall the warm hospitality that Howard and his beloved wife Elisabeth extended in their home. Hall Building 112 has an excellent photograph of Howard on the wall, placed there a few years after his retirement. It has since looked down on Haverford and Bryn Mawr students he never knew, an agreeable link with our past and their future; and so it will continue.Howard's scholarly career was somewhat separate from his teaching: a Roman archaeologist as well as Latin philologist, he published many articles on Roman pottery over the years. He founded an international organization devoted to Roman ceramic archaeology, the Rei Cretariae Romanae Fautores, with members in 25 countries and its own published Acta. He spent two periods of research at the Institute for Advanced study at Princeton, gathering materials for his massive volume Corpus Vasorum Aretinorum, a catalogue of signatures, shapes and chronol­ogy of Italian sigillata originally compiled by August OxĂ©. Howard's successor, Dr. Phillip Kenrick of Oxford University, is continuing his research under the aegis of several learned organizations. To the end of his life Howard maintained an active interest in Roman ceramic archaeology, and faithfully corresponded with scholars from all over the world. But the College he loved did not own him. Early in the Second World War Howard worked with the American Friends Service Committee in Italy; in the early fifties he took a leave of absence to serve as Cultural Attach6 with the American Embassy in Rome, and as Cultural Affairs Officer with the American Legation in Embassy in Berne. He was active in the affairs of Haverford Monthly for many decades, and Clark of the Meeting on Worship and Ministry of Philological Association, he became its Secretary-Treasury in 1946 and President in 1962. In retirement at Crosslands he maintained a social schedule that would exhaust anyone far younger. Yet Howard always did every­thing extremely well in his mellow, careful style punctuated by magisterial puffs on his pipe. This is perhaps how we should remember him: as a deeply humane man, an unassuming scholar of world rank, a devoted Quaker bear­ing splendid witness to Haverford College and its distinctive mission.

  • Sources:

    WhAm 38 (1974-5); APA Newsletter (February 1994) 22-3.

  • Author: Daniel Gillis