Academic, writer Ronald Rompkey dead at 70

MUN English prof’s interests included medical history, the arts, French

Published on August 1, 2014
Ronald Rompkey of St. John's signs the guest book after being inducted into the Order of Canada during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa Saturday, Oct. 30, 2004. — Source: The Canadian Press

A well-known academic and writer in Newfoundland and Labrador has died.
Ronald Rompkey was an English professor for many years at Memorial University and was involved in the creation of books that explored the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Rompkey, 70, was reportedly battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Born in St. John’s, he pursued a master’s degree in English at MUN and later completed his PhD in English at the University of London in England.

His teaching career included stints at the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta and the University of Saskatchewan. He joined MUN’s English department in 1984 and maintained a strong presence at the university for the next 30 years.

The University of Toronto Press published his biography of British doctor Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell — “Grenfell of Labrador: A Biography” — in 1991, detailing the doctor’s efforts to bring medical services to parts of the province that otherwise had none. As editor, he published three other books related to Grenfell’s missions.

Rompkey was also interested in the arts. His book of essays on visual artists Reginald Shepherd and Helen Parsons Shepherd — “A Life Composed: Reginald Shepherd & Helen Parsons Shepherd” — earned him an Atlantic Book Award in 2006.

He spent time as chairman for the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, was a board member for the Canadian Conference of the Arts, and served as vice-president of CultureNet for five years.

He was also at one point the director of the J.R. Smallwood Foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, which supports research into the province’s history.

France honoured Rompkey with its Ordre National du Mérite to recognize his contributions to the French community of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie recognized him for those same attributes with its Ordre de la Pléiade.

Rompkey spent several years researching travel literature authored by French visitors, including ship captains, naval officers and journalists. Rompkey included some of those pieces in the book, “Terre-Neuve: Anthologie des Voyageurs Français, 1814-1914.”

Rompkey was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2003.

He was the brother of Bill Rompkey, a former MP and senator.

A funeral service is scheduled to take place Aug. 5 at the Anglican Cathedral in St. John's starting at 11 a.m.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew