During his 33-year teaching career at the University of Mississippi, John Pilkington influenced hundreds of students, inspired colleagues and filled key leadership roles. Following his 1985 retirement, he continued to raise funds for the university library.
Pilkington, 93, distinguished professor emeritus of English, died June 4 at his home in Oxford. Services were at 11 a.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church in Oxford, following visitation from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Interment was at Oxford Memorial Cemetery.
“It’s hard to imagine Ole Miss without John Pilkington,” said Chancellor Emeritus Robert Khayat. “In addition to being a much-loved and respected professor, he and his longtime friend Dr. (Charles) Noyes were the leaders in seeking much-needed support for the J.D. Williams Library, and it’s hard to remember a time when we were not receiving letters asking for donations for books and other support.”
Pilkington was the senior professor of American literature in the Department of English from 1960 to 1985. He taught one of the first courses devoted solely to William Faulkner and was a moving force in establishing UM’s annual Faulkner Conference.
Pilkington was honored in 2009, with dedication of the library’s John Pilkington Study Room, a project spearheaded by library Dean Julia Rholes and several of his longtime friends.
“He was a steadfast champion of the libraries,” Rholes said. “As a scholar and teacher, Dr. Pilkington believed that you could not have a great university without a strong library collection, and as president of the Friends of the Libraries, he worked tirelessly for years to help build our collections.”
Pilkington held a bachelor’s degree from Centre College. He served during WW II, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. He earned both master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard.
“John was well educated, a lover of learning at all levels, a distinguished scholar, a lively and humorous conversationalist, a world traveler, a devoted friend of the library, a thoughtful and considerate colleague, and a really, really good friend,” said former student Gerald Walton, later a colleague.
In 1977, Pilkington was named one of the university’s first Distinguished Professors.
He published numerous articles in professional journals. His work includes The Heart of Yoknapatawpha, a study of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha novels, and books on novelists Francis Marion Crawford and Henry Blake Fuller, and a biographical and critical study of Southern literary renaissance leader and Mississippi native Stark Young.
Pilkington is survived by his wife of 69 years, Lillian (Lolly) Kirk Pilkington; son, Charles Kirk Pilkington and his wife, Annie Lee, of Charlottesville, Va.; three grandsons; and sister, Grace Pilkington Harper of Panama City Beach, Fla.
Memorials may be sent to the John Pilkington Library Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 249, University MS 38677, or First Presbyterian Church, 924 Van Buren Ave., Oxford MS 38655.