Duncan Seely Harris died peacefully of advanced kidney cancer at his family home in Jackson, Wyoming, on May 16, 2019. Loving this world as he did, he bore his illness with courage and optimism, his death with incredulity. “It’s too early for me to die. I’m having too much fun.”
As a youth, Duncan claimed both Wyoming and California as home. He was born February 22, 1944, in Worland, Wyoming, to Nadine Nostrum Harris, daughter of Helen and Alfred Nostrum of Thermopolis, granddaughter of Jacob and Amanda Nostrum, 1897 homesteaders in the Red Canyon up Owl Creek. At the time of Duncan’s birth, his father, Arden Seely Harris, was serving in the Navy in the Pacific. Upon his return, the young family moved to California. Over the next two decades, Duncan and his sister, Andrea Dee Mahoney, spent summers in Thermopolis, winters in California. Duncan remembered those summers with affection, telling wonderful stories of weeks out in the Gas Hills prospecting for uranium with his grandfather.
Receiving his BA from Stanford in 1965 and PhD from Brandeis in 1971, Duncan was hired as Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wyoming in 1970. From the start, he poured mind and heart into teaching and advising students. He was as passionate about helping an individual student solve a problem as he was about introducing whole classes to the world of Shakespeare, be it on the UW campus or in historic theaters in Stratford or London. The culminating chapter of his long career was serving as director of the UW Honors Program. His awards were many, from frequent recognition of advising and classroom excellence to the Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award and the Trustees’ Award of Merit. From his perspective, however, his success was always measured by the success of his students, many of whom became life-long mentees and dear friends. He retired in 2014.
Duncan was preceded in death by his parents, Nadine and Arden Harris. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Janice Hubbard Harris; sons Adam Duncan Harris (Kristine) and Joshua A. H. Harris (Leyla Seka); sister Andrea Dee Mahoney (Michael); grandchildren Grainger, Kepley, Leonidas, and Helexios; and nieces Kelly Mahoney Mitchell and Michelle Mahoney Allen. Duncan was a Renaissance man, keenly curious and observant. No one could better guide a pair of grandchildren through a medieval church or Roman amphitheater, no one could make a better pot of stroganoff or quart of huckleberry ice cream. We will all miss his wry humor and love of music, art, literature, travel, history, cooking, hiking, coins, rocks, stamps, and books.
A Memorial Service will be held in Laramie on the campus of the University of Wyoming, in the Theater and Dance Department’s main stage auditorium, at 10:00 on Sunday morning, February 16, 2020. Before Duncan’s death, Janice and Duncan created the Duncan and Janice Harris Excellence Fund to support the Honors College at the University of Wyoming. Contributions to the fund in Duncan’s memory may be sent to the University of Wyoming Foundation, 222 South 22nd Street, Laramie, WY 82070. Gifts may also be made online at www.uwyo.edu/foundation.