In honor of Professor Emeritus of History Robert A. Huff, who passed away on March 13, the American flag on the HWS campus will be flown at half-mast this week.
“A beloved member of the Hobart and William Smith community, Professor Huff’s dedication to the Colleges was evidenced through his many collaborations with his colleagues, his thoughtful exploration of the curriculum, his unwavering standards of excellence in scholarship, and the great joy he took in seeing his students succeed,” says Colleges President Mark D. Gearan.
Remembered by his students as “the best of the great professors we had at college” and by his colleagues as “simply the single best teacher we have on campus,” Professor Huff received the Distinguished Faculty Award in 1999, the highest accolade bestowed on a faculty member by our alumni and alumnae. Our graduates demonstrated their admiration for Professor Huff with the generous establishment of the Robert A. Huff Scholarship providing financial aid to HWS students from New York City.
The first faculty member to hold the Donald R. Harter ’39 Professorship in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Huff was the recipient of the Faculty Prize for Distinguished Teaching in 1976 and the Faculty Community Prize in 1988. First awarded by the History Department in 2003, the Robert A. Huff Prize is presented annually in his honor to the senior history major with the best academic record.
As an historian, his work focused on American history, the 20th century, social justice and women’s history. His scholarly contributions include reviews and articles for the Encyclopedia of American Biography, the Encyclopedia of World War One, Pennsylvania History, New York History, and the American Historical Review.
“Bob Huff was a beloved and respected member of the history department from 1962 to 1992,” says Professor of History and Dean of William Smith Suzanne McNally. “He was a fine teacher and scholar inside and outside the classroom. Many generations of Hobart and William Smith students thrived under his influence. He was wryly witty, thoughtful and unfailingly kind. Bob was also a true progressive. He was one of the founders of our Women’s Studies Program, among the very earliest in the country to be established. He was an unwavering support throughout those early decades.”
Huff’s research in the area of the local women’s movement focused on Elizabeth Miller, Anne Fitzhew Miller, the Political Equality Club and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. He donated numerous newspaper articles, letters, magazine articles, and note cards he collected for the purpose of writing about the Millers to the Archives of Warren Hunting Smith Library in the summer of 2001.
In the 30 years of his tenure at HWS, Huff was a co-initiator of the Martin Luther King Scholarship Fund, clinical professor for social studies, and served as a member of several committees, including the search committee for the William Smith Dean from 1970 to 1971.
“We remember fondly our times with Bob, whether dining together, going to the Smith, or talking over our shared backyard fence while gardening,” says Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies Betty Bayer. “Bob was a co-founder of Women’s Studies, and was himself a historian of Elizabeth Smith Miller and the Geneva Women’s Political Equality Club. We have often and routinely relied on Bob’s knowledge of the local women’s movement history, and often sought Bob’s kind and wise counsel. But, on top of all of this, Bob was a great gardening partner, and he will be dearly missed. We recall his teacherly wisdom from his nickname ‘Tough Huff’ to ‘three-footnotes-per-page Huff,’ Bob lived his values with grace and dignity.”
Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his senior year, Huff received the Allen History Prize, and was awarded his B.A. with distinction in history from Boston University in 1952. Receiving his M.A. from Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in 1953, he interrupted his academic career to enter Navy Officers’ Candidate School in September, then serving on active duty in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1953 to 1957. His service included on year aboard the U.S.S. Des Moines and, of greater significance, two years in Italy as a communications specialist.
Honorably discharged in 1957, Huff returned to New England, spending the next two years as a history teacher at the Hebron Academy in Hebron, Me.
In 1959, he entered the graduate program at the University of Rochester and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1967, already having begun his teaching career at Hobart and William Smith in 1962, when he was hired as an instructor in history. Promoted to assistant professor in 1967, Huff was named an associate professor in 1970. In July of 1975, he rose to full professor.
After his retirement, Huff continued to reside on South Main Street in Geneva, N.Y., and maintained his connections and commitment to the HWS and Geneva communities.
Huff is survived by his wife, Jane Donegan, devoted children and family members. Memorial contributions may be made to a scholarship in Huff’s name at the Colleges. Private services will be held at the convenience of the family.