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>  News Releases >   2004 >   November

Noel Perrin, 1927-2004

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 11/23/04 • Contact Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

Noel Perrin, a well-loved writer, teacher, mentor and friend who was Professor of English, Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College, died Nov. 21, 2004 at his farmhouse in Thetford Center, Vt. after a long illness, at age 77.

Noel Perrin
Noel Perrin (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Born Sept. 18, 1927 in New York City, Perrin (known to his friends as Ned), grew up in Pelham Manor, N.Y. His parents both worked in advertising.  His father, Edwin O. Perrin, worked at the J. Walter Thompson Agency as a copywriter.   His mother, Blanche Chenery Perrin, was the first woman the firm hired to write ad copy and was the author of several novels, including By the Same Door, and Born to Race, a children's novel.

Ned attended the Woodberry Forest School in Woodberry Forest, Va., and went on to study at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., where he majored in English literature and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. He received a Master of Arts degree in English from Duke University in 1950, then served in the United States Army in Korea from 1951-52. After his military service he taught English literature at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina - now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro - from 1956-59. He also studied at Cambridge University in England, where he received an M. Litt. degree in literature in 1958.

He joined the Dartmouth faculty in 1959 as an instructor in English. He was promoted to Assistant Professor of English in 1961, and to Associate Professor of English with tenure in 1966.  He became a full Professor in 1970, and then was chairman of the English Department from 1972-75. He specialized in teaching modern poetry, particularly that of Robert Frost. He was a Fulbright professor at Warsaw University in Poland in 1970, and was twice a Guggenheim Fellow, in 1970 and again in 1985. He joined Dartmouth's Environmental Studies Program in 1984 as an Adjunct Professor, teaching courses on a range of subjects, from nature writing and environmental journalism to electric cars.

He began writing works for a popular audience in 1961 with his first essay collection, A Passport Secretly Green, which included an essay entitled "Nuclear Disobedience" that discussed his anxieties about the build-up of nuclear weapons. His second book, Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America, was published in 1969 and was nominated for the National Book Award. His sixth book, Giving up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, about a period in which Japan renounced the use of guns, was his personal favorite.

In 1963 Ned bought an 85-acre farm in Thetford Center, Vt. His experiences of rural life led to a series of books in which he shared those experiences, beginning with Vermont in All Weathers (1971) and Amateur Sugar Maker (1972). In 1978 he published First Person Rural: Essays of a Sometime Farmer, which became so popular that he wrote three sequels that ended with Last Person Rural in 1991.

Ned's approach to the natural world, and to life in general, was a mixture of deep romanticism and practical wisdom. He loved the sight of stone walls around freshly mown fields, of Holsteins in a summer pasture, of steam billowing out of his sugarhouse. At the same time he thrived on building those stone walls cleanly, mowing the fields neatly and well, boiling the sap efficiently. What he wrote about Henry David Thoreau at the beginning of The Amateur Sugar Maker could easily have applied to himself: "He liked to see how much of a project one man can do alone, with just his hands and a few tools."

One of his many important environmental legacies was his belief in land conservation. In 1984, he donated the development rights on his farm to the town of Thetford, which required a vote at Town Meeting. In 1999 he asked the Upper Valley Land Trust to monitor and enforce the protections of his farm, which required another vote at Town Meeting. Later, he and his wife, Sara Coburn, included in the protections the creation of a public trail leading to Bill Hill, the place he called his "in-house mini-mountain." 

Another environmental legacy was his interest in alternate energy sources. He purchased an electric car that he drove on a trip across the United States, resulting in his writing Solo: Life with an Electric Car (1992). He also was among the first to drive a gas-electric hybrid automobile. And much of the electricity provided to his farmhouse is still generated by the twenty-eight solar panels on his barn roof.

Ned's life, by his own choice and to his great pleasure, was a full one. At the height of his activity, he wrote to a friend: "I currently spend half my time teaching at Dartmouth, half farming and half writing. That this adds up to three halves I am all too aware."

Ned is survived by his wife, Sara Coburn of Thetford Center, Vt.; two daughters, Margaret (Amy) Haque-Joy of Lebanon, N.H. and Elisabeth Perrin of Seattle, Wash.; four stepchildren, Manon Price of West Lebanon, N.H.; Kirsten Nachmanoff of Arlington, Va., Connie Feydy of Barnet, Vt.; Marek Sapieyevski of New York City; a granddaughter, Alexandra Hess, of Lebanon, N.H.; and a sister, Burnley Perrin Washington, D.C. He had three previous marriages, to Nancy Hunnicutt of Plainfield, N.H.; Annemarie Hoffmeister of Hanover, N.H.; and Anne Spencer Lindbergh, who died in 1993.

A private scattering of Ned's ashes will take place on Bill Hill next spring.  A memorial service will be held in January at Dartmouth College with date and location to be announced. Memorial contributions may be made in Ned's name to Environmental Defense, by mail to 1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20009, or at www.edf.org.

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