Frank Eakin Jr., a University of Richmond alumnus and one of the longest-tenured faculty members in the history of UR, died Jan. 26. He is remembered for his devotion to his students.
Eakin graduated from UR in 1958, returning less than a decade later to join the faculty in 1966. He taught there for another 53 years, retiring in January 2020, only a few weeks before his passing.
During his time at UR, Eakin was appointed as the Solon B. Cousins Professor of Religion for four years and the Weinstein-Rosenthal Professor of Jewish and Christian Studies for 33 years. He served as the chair of the department of religious studies from 1978 to 2001.
G. Scott Davis, a professor of religious studies who worked with Eakin for 25 years, said that he knew early on that Eakin was “somebody [he] could count on, not just as a colleague, but as an honest figure in the community.”
In addition to the respect of his colleagues, Eakin earned a reputation among his students as a kind and approachable professor.
William Kelly, '07, an assistant professor of religious studies who studied under Eakin as a UR student, said that taking classes taught by Eakin was both helpful and enjoyable for him.
“He always would take a very student-focused approach,” said Kelly. “Any time we would…want to sort of pick his brain on different topics, he’d be happy to reel off all the knowledge that he has and share insights.”
Eakin was recognized with UR’s Distinguished Educator Award in 1986. According to the guidelines for this award, recipients must demonstrate a commitment to pedagogical innovation, along with an ability to engage with students and foster their development through mentorship.
Davis said that Eakin had always been there for those he taught.
“With regard to students,” he said, “he had an almost infinite amount of patience and concern.”
Kelly also emphasized this patience and concern, reminiscing on a humorous incident that took place well into the semester of a Hebrew class he took under Eakin. When a student expressed confusion, Eakin took time to patiently explain the fact that Hebrew is read right-to-left, rather than left-to-right.
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Although the story may be funny, Kelly said, it demonstrates that Eakin never took a judgmental approach to his relationships with students.
Kelly continued to learn from him even as they were colleagues, he said. Eakin always checked up with him, asking not only what material his classes were covering but what he was doing with students to nurture their development and educate them.
Kelly said that these conversations acted as a reminder for him to clear his mind of all his other problems and focus on ensuring that he was a welcoming, kind voice for young people who wanted to learn.
“I think for Frank,” Kelly said, “that drive to keep teaching for 50 years was just because he loved students.”
Eakin was also admired more broadly as a scholar in the field of religious studies. He was awarded the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award by Who’s Who in America for his exceptional work in the fields of religious studies and higher education.
He published four books throughout his career, along with numerous articles in major academic journals, according to an email from UR's Office of the Chaplaincy.
In two of his books, namely “First Tablet of Commandments: A Jewish-Christian Problem” and “What Price Prejudice? Christian Antisemitism in America," he discussed issues regarding Judeo-Christian relations.
Davis said that Eakin worked hard to maintain relations between the Jewish and Christian communities, both on the UR campus and in the intellectual world as a whole.
All that said, Davis believes that Eakin was most proud of the bonds he formed with those he taught. He said that Eakin's former students “established a long-standing, deep friendship with [him]” and “remember him as the kind of person that shaped an early part of their lives.”
Eakin's obituary provides more information on his contributions on and off campus.
Contact news writer Alan Clancy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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