James Irving Wimsatt, Ph.D.

James Irving Wimsatt, Ph.D., 96, of Scranton and Austin, Texas, died early Sunday morning at his home in Scranton with his family at his side. His wife of 32 years is Rebecca Beal, Ph.D.
Born in 1927 in Highland Park, Michigan, Dr. Wimsatt was the son of the late James Irving Wimsatt III and Rodman Hays Wimsatt. He was a graduate of the Grosse Pointe High School in Michigan and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts degree from Wayne State University and finally a Doctorate in English literature from Duke University. He was a proud member of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. James was a member of the St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas and attended services at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Scranton. He served honorably in the United States Navy during the period of 1945 to 1946.
A distinguished scholar of medieval literature, he authored numerous highly regarded books and essays on Geoffrey Chaucer, culminating in the highly praised Chaucer and His French Contemporaries (1993), which demonstrated, for the first time, how Middle French lyric poets influenced Chaucer’s writing. In retirement, he completed Hopkins’s Poetics of Speech Sound (2006) and studied the intersection of poetry, linguistics and rhyme, a project which consumed his interest until the end. Dr. Wimsatt’s academic positions included: Temple professor of English Literature, the University of Texas at Austin (1977-92); professor, the University of North Carolina—Greensboro (1966-77); assistant professor, Texas Christian University (1964-66). During his long and storied professional life he received the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship; ACLS Research Fellowship; Huntington Library Fellowship, among others.
Also surviving are a daughter, Alison Ross and her partner, Francois Guillot; sons, Andrew James Wimsatt; and David Joseph Wimsatt and his fiancée, Hannah Sierra Levien; sister-in-law, Ruth Wimsatt; nieces and nephews; countless students and colleagues.
He was also preceded in death by his brother, Joseph Hays Wimsatt.
Funeral services will be held Friday, Oct. 20, at 10 a.m. in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 232 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, officiated and celebrated by the Rev. Rebecca Barnes, rector.
Friends and family may pay their respects from 9 a.m. until the time of the service.
Inurnment and military honors will take place in St. David’s Episcopal Church, Austin Texas.
To share a memory or to express your condolences to the family, please visit www.vanstonandjames.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages memorial contributions be made to the Episcopal Relief and Development, P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058; or the charity of your choice.
Arrangements have been entrusted to and are under the care and direction of the Vanston and James Funeral Home, Scranton.


  1. Anna Hamer

    Offering sincere condolences to the family at this time of loss. May your memories of good times sustain you in your times if grieving.

  2. Sincere condolences to the family, but at the same time, a celebration of Jim’s long life and loving family and friends. We shall miss him here in Austin at Cambridge Tower!
    Tom Schurr-Cambridge Tower GM and Cambridge Family

  3. Lawrence Person

    Jim was a swell guy and he will be missed.

  4. Brendon Gannon

    Thank you Mr. Wimsatt for being such a great example. I will forever remember your smile and sense of humor. Thanks for loving and accepting us as Dave’s knuckle headed friends. You are a true legend!

    • David J Wimsatt

      Thanks, Brendon for these kind words. He sure did love to grill for us at the old house – and seeing us eat so much brought him a lot of joy, you could tell.

      I hadn’t read the comments on here until today, but this one warms my soul and does me good on a day like today.

      Can’t wait to see you at the wedding, man, it’s been way too long.

      One love,

  5. Frank & Jill Koczwara

    Dear Rebecca, David & Family:
    Jill and I would like to express our deepest condolences on Jim’s passing. We always found Jim to be a true gentleman and easy to talk when in his company. Jim’s life was filled with many academic accomplishments and he was indeed a true scholar. May you all find peace, love and comfort among family and friend during this sad and trying time. May God’s grace shine upon all of you and give you strength and comfort in your grief. May Jim rest in peace in God’s hands and above cherish his memory.
    Jill & Frank Koczwara – Greenwood, SC

  6. I was married to James Wimsatt for almost thirty years; we were professors of literature at several different universities; we were amicably divorced in 1990 because Jim did not want to move to Columbia, South Carolina after I was offered an excellent position in the English Department at the university; we kept in touch after the divorce; I know and like his wife, Rebecca Beal. Jim and I had two children together, Andrew and Alison, who are currently with me in Austin, Texas. Jim was a remarkable person, as other people have noted. I am sorry he is gone.

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