The Hobart and William Smith community mourns the loss of renowned poet and Professor of English Ashley Halpé P’96, who taught at the Colleges in the early 1990s.
Professor Halpé became the youngest professor in Sri Lanka at the age of 31, when he joined the University of Peradeniya. During his more than 50-year career, he cultivated a reputation as the most senior Professor of English and the preeminent English Education scholar in that country. He authored many books, both creative and scholarly, as well as translations of Sinhalese works into English. Beyond his reputation as a writer, he was a renowned theatre director and served in many administrative roles at the Peradeniya, including as Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Head of the Department of English for more than 25 years, and Head of Fine Arts for several years. He also served as a visiting professor in numerous foreign universities.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology James Spates P’00, P’09 first met Halpé and his family in Sri Lanka in 1987 as part of a Fulbright-Hayes Group Project Abroad.
“What a wonderful, erudite family they were!” he recalls. “Ashley lectured in his inimitable and eloquent style to our Fulbright group on numerous occasions, after some of which talks we were all hosted in their beautiful home and treated to a spectacular Sri Lankan meal. These encounters led to a very strong bond being forged between many of the Fulbright faculty and the University of Peradeniya.”
Thus began a 20-year exchange in which a number of Peradeniya faculty came to teach at HWS, of which Professor Halpé was a part. As a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at HWS for the 1991-92 academic year, he taught a number of classes on poetry, English literature and the literature of Sri Lanka.
“While the Halpés were with us, life was better at HWS,” Spates says. “They are fondly remembered and, even though Ashley is no longer with us, the positive mark he and his family left on these small colleges will endure for decades.”
Professor Halpé, who passed away on May 14, is survived by his wife of 57 years, Bridget; and children, Ella Aparna ’96, Guy, and Haasinee. Today Professor Halpé’s ties to the HWS community live on through his daughter, as well as the alumni and alumnae he mentored and the faculty and staff with whom he worked.