College mourns beloved professor
Dr. Paul L. Cantrell, of Danville, a beloved English professor at Centre College for 40 years, died June 7 at his home in Danville.
Born in Nashville, Tenn., Cantrell completed bachelor's and master's degrees at Vanderbilt University and earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia. In 1949 he joined the Centre faculty and taught through seven College presidents before retiring in 1989.
A talented thespian and storyteller extraordinaire, Cantrell enchanted audiences with his performances over the years at Centre, Pioneer Playhouse, and the West T. Hill Community Theatre. Even a casual conversation with him had elements of theater as he first set the stage and then drew his audience, be it of one or 50, into the scene. Yet he always insisted theater was merely his avocation. His work - and his passion - was teaching. Asked once if he ever had aspirations for a stage career, he replied, "Yes. And I fulfilled them."
Milton Reigelman, who taught English with Cantrell for 18 years, said at his colleague's retirement, "It's not accidental that Cantrell is most attracted to Shakespeare, and to Chaucer, the most profound dramatist and the most wonderful storyteller in English. And for the same two reasons that he is attracted to these two sublime masters of the language and of story, we are attracted to him."
A Cantrell class was marked by the unexpected. One legendary story had him perched cross-legged on his desk as he related the story of an English classic, Sir Gawain's pursuit of the Green Knight. Suddenly Cantrell leapt off the desk, swinging his arms as though they held a great ax and exclaimed, "And he lopped off his head." It was an image students could recall perfectly even 30 years later.
Cantrell did a little bit of everything at Centre. Arriving first as a temporary replacement while drama professor West T. Hill was on a leave of absence, Cantrell then served a three-year stint as director of admissions. Back in the classroom, he taught Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, coached debate, encouraged young writers as sponsor of Obiter Scripta and Coffee and Cake (campus literary magazines), chaired the English program, and took students to Great Britain on a regular basis. "Nothing," he once admitted, "has pleased me or satisfied me more than to conduct the overseas program."
Cantrell's love of England began during World War II when he spent several months in Cornwall recovering from wounds received during battle in Germany. A machine gunner with the Ninth Infantry Division, he was seriously injured during the Battle of Huertgen Forest.
He was named Cowan Professor of English in 1975 and an honorary member of Centre's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1973. He received the Hughes Award for extraordinary teaching in 1983.
After retiring, he led alumni tours of Great Britain and was a regular contributor to the Centrepiece alumni magazine.
In 1997, J. David Grissom, a former student who is now chair of Centre's board of trustees, established a professorship in Cantrell's name.
Survivors include his wife Jacqueline Mebius Cantrell; two sons, John Cantrell of Winter Springs, Fla., and Clay Cantrell of Hendersonville, Tenn.; and a daughter, Jennifer Cantrell of Indiana.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
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Memorial gifts may be mailed to the Centre College Development Office,
600 W. Walnut Street, Danville, KY 40422. Please indicate that the gift
is in memory of Prof. Cantrell.
Public information coordinator: Patsi Barnes Trollinger