Archive for Sunday, May 30, 1999


May 30, 1999


I'm not sure George Worth is in the mood to have me write about him, but I'm doing so anyway. For a long time I've wanted to put into print some facts about George and some opinions, too. He's one of the best people I know, one of those rare ones who can be called a gentleman.

We've been friends for a long time, first, as I recall, in the Unitarian Fellowship. We had a minor difference of opinion once about the Pearson Program at KU, but that's long in the past. One reason that we get along, I guess, is that we're in accord concerning many social and political questions. I hope that won't bestir one of those people who think all of us liberals are dangerous so that a letter may show up denouncing George in print.

You may have known George as a professor of English and a longtime chairman of the English department. He's a 19th-century English literature man. Once he read for me on my radio hour, and one of the things he read was from "Tom Brown's School Days." Do the young ones read that book these days?

A few years ago I interviewed George Worth for the KU Retirees' Club oral history business. I admit that I went back to look into that interview. The thing that startled me in the interview was learning that he was born in Vienna, Austria. The year, 1929, didn't startle me, even though it meant that he, like others I have interviewed, might be a bit vague about the Depression and World War II. He spent the first 10 years of his life in Austria, and he remembers little about that time.

He and his family left as refugees, and they went to London to live for a time, and then they came to Chicago, in 1940. George has some memories of the Nazi Anschluss, and he agrees with what Francis Heller, another born in Austria, once told me, that the Austrians were worse than the Germans in their fascist beliefs and behavior. George learned English as a boy in London, living near that part of the city that has the home of John Keats and the Hampstead Heath.

In Chicago the family lived on the South Side, and George was conditioned as a boy in Chicago. All of his school years up to the Ph.D. were spent in Chicago; his bachelor and master degrees were from the great University of Chicago. He had known Carol, his wife, from childhood. When it came time for the Ph.D. work he chose the University of Illinois.

It was there that he became an English literature man, all the great Victorians, Dickens, Thackeray, Eliot, Hughes, but also the French Maupassant.

He has been in England several times, and once he brought back to me a cold medicine, Mrs. something or other, that helped me when I had an eight-week siege in Britain. He had a Fulbright scholarship to London, and he has had many honors.

George headed the department from 1964 to 1979. I always wonder how one can be a department chairman and amass an impressive list of scholarly work. He has such a list, and he was chairman in some stormy years.

George and Carol have two children, Terry and Paul, and also grandchildren. This past basketball season we talked with the Worths on the alumni bus, and Carol seemed especially proud of her basketball-playing granddaughter. It was good to find that the Worths, like the Picketts, followed the KU team even in some of those rough days.

I should note that Paul was one of my students and that we keep in touch. I'll bet he remembers that when he sold cars he sold us two Fords in one day. He's a charming and able young man, and I reflect on the fact that so many children of my friends sat in my classrooms, some even staying awake.

In that interview with George Worth we talked about a lot of things. George, like me, has an enthusiasm for the David Lean movie of "Great Expectations," which I think is the best Dickens ever to reach the screen. We talked about the KU years, and all the people in the English department, his childhood. George, like me, got out and sold things like the Saturday Evening Post. He told me a lot about his boyhood in Chicago. George and Carol Worth are two more of the fine people of Lawrence, and I am absolutely sincere in saying it has been a pleasure to know them, and to write this column.

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His column appears in Sunday's Journal-World.

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