Story by Tyler Channell, Garrett Hinners, Emily Neal and Daniel Scroggins
David Lavery, known for his cultural studies of television shows as varied as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Game of Thrones,” was remembered Thursday as a devoted academic and a caring teacher by students and colleagues.
Lavery, a professor at MTSU since 1993, died Tuesday after a short illness, just three days after he turned 67. He was admitted to the hospital on his birthday, Aug. 27.
“David was warm and generous man, well loved by his students in particular,” said Kevin Donovan, professor in the English department and longtime colleague of Lavery’s.
“He worked with a great many students on masters’ thesis and dissertations, and inspired them. There’s a good deal of grief, I know, among the graduate students.”
Lavery, in addition to being a full professor was also director of the graduate program in the English Department.
“Dr. Lavery was incredibly gifted at being supportive of graduate students. He was always excited at what you were excited about,” said Rachel Donegan, a doctoral student. “he had such a great way of personally relating to graduate students and making sure they felt appreciated and heard.”
Brielle Campos, another doctoral student, who was enrolled in Lavery’s graduate course this semester (Special topics in popular culture: Game of Thrones) offered this summation of Lavery on her Facebook page: “I feel privileged to have met such a visionary, even if it were only a few times. He leaves a great hole in the heart of the MTSU English Department.”
Lavery came to teach at MTSU in 1993. The Oil City, Pennsylvania native completed his undergraduate training at Clarion University in Pennsylvania, a master’s at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota and was awarded a doctorate in English from the University of Florida in 1978. From 2006 to 2008, Lavery served at Brunel University in London, where he was chair of the film and television department.
Earlier in his career, he served five months at East China Normal University in Shanghai as a foreign expert in English. Lavery was a prolific writer having penned more than 20 books and over 150 published essays, chapters, and reviews.
“He was very energetic and supportive to staff and me. He kept the MTSU name out there, local and worldwide,” noted Robert Holtzclaw, an MTSU professor of film studies.
Lavery’s writings ran the gamut, from strictly academic to books based on popular culture. He was best known for his writings about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a television show popular from 1997 to 2003. How a teen-age slayer of the living dead became academic fodder for Lavery is a story often told by the professor.
Rebecca King, an associate English professor at MTSU revelled in the unique brilliance of Lavery’s carreer focus.
“He did tell me once his career has been very ironic,” King said. “He went into film studies when it was kind of fluffy. He was a pioneer in both film and TV studies.”
“I’ve been asked a hundred times why I’m interested in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I say it is because it makes me feel my education wasn’t for nothing,” Lavery told MTSU magazine in a 2014 profile.
“As a graduate student, I used to hate TV,” he admitted in the magazine article. “I thought it was Orwellian and would ruin our souls. I never pictured myself here, in this career. And I’m having fun.”
Donegan, the doctoral candidate, said Lavery gave popular culture respect.
“He would relate pop culture to Shakespeare. Like Shakespeare was the popular culture of his day and now shows like ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ are equally important and equally respected,” she observed.
Lavery was an organizer or co-organizer of several popular culture conferences around the country. His last such event was Mad Men: The Conference, which was held at MTSU last May. One of the co-organizers was fellow MTSU professor, Jane Marcellus, who teaches journalism.
“It’s a shock in the pop culture world,” said Marcellus. “He’s the kind of scholar we should all aspire to be.”
Added Donovan: “David certainly had a big effect on the curriculum, helping get MTSU known for popular culture. A number of graduate students came here specifically because of David’s work. (His work in) various conferences and organizations reflected well on the department.”
Funeral services will be held Friday (Sept. 2), 10 a.m. at Woodfin Memorial Chapel, 1488 Lascassas Pike in Murfreesboro. A reception will be held immediately after the funeral at the MTSU Foundation House, 324 West Thompson Lane.
Lavery is survived by his wife Joyce Kling Lavery; two daughters, Rachel Lavery (Neel Dhingra), and Sarah Porterfield (Jason); and grandchildren, Maya Dhingra, Adelyn, Jackson and Waylon Porterfield.
Lavery often doted on his grandchildren. “He’d light up when they were mentioned,” said Donovan, whose voice choked with emotion remembering his friend and colleague.
On Thursday, outside of Lavery’s office the professor’s appointments were still listed on a message board. On a desk was a card of condolence waiting for students and faculty to sign. Nearby was a showcase of Lavery’s books, the product of his life’s work.
Also contributing to this report were: Mallory Burysek, Ashley Coker, Nick Hardin, Barbara Harmon, Katrina Johnson, Malek Loritts, Nathan Mitchell, Andrew Nation, Alexa Neff, Aundrea Paredes, Jonathan Pointer, Andrew Williams, Jessie Williams and Trevor Wilson