Raymond H. Reno

Raymond Reno, Professor of English at Georgetown for thirty seven years, died August 8th 2006.  He will be remembered for many years as a vivid, challenging teacher and colleague, a man of direct honesty who cared passionately about literature, student writing, and the way learning works in the classroom.

            Born in Detroit, Ray Reno served in the South Pacific during World War II with the Army Air Force and saw combat as an aircraft machine gunner.  After the war he received his BA from Catholic University and later a Ph.D. from the George Washington University where, partly in preparation for his final examinations he memorized a remarkable range of passages from canonic texts, a faculty and an asset he was to draw upon in his years as a teacher.

            On the Georgetown campus Ray Reno became celebrated for his ability to lecture brilliantly, and at length, about Shakespeare, Elizabethan Drama generally, Milton, and many other writers.  But in the late 1960’s his teaching strategy altered significantly, in part perhaps because of the political crisis of the era.  He developed interactive strategies for classroom work which included requiring students to work through scenes from theater texts which they were expected to perform during class and to discuss as performance as well as in terms of their existence as written documents.  This work he described in his book The Impact Teacher which appeared in 1967.  Similarly innovative in the teaching of writing, Ray often asked students to write extensively in notebooks and intellectual diaries as well as in more traditional essay forms.  Concurrently he taught in similar ways in the night school program at The Johns Hopkins University.

            In the 1970’s Ray Reno along with students and colleagues formed the Georgetown Classical Theater, which staged full productions of plays by Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and others in which the casts and crew were composed of both student and professional theater people and in which he himself performed major roles such as Hamlet and Macbeth.  These productions can readily be seen as a kind of culmination of Reno’s classroom work, but also as a unique contribution to the Washington theater scene at a time when the Shakespeare Theater and other classical companies had not yet been formed.

            Ray Reno was an ambitious writer of fiction for many years.  In the 1960’s his short stories appeared in little magazines.  It is to be much regretted that one of his later works, the full length novel Actor¸ which at one point was accepted for publication by the Steerforth Press, never appeared.

            Throughout his years at Georgetown Raymond Reno served the English Department as a highly admired teacher and as a selflessly generous member of Department committees.  He was a good friend to many. One of his close friends in the Department, Gay Cima, recalls especially, how he loved to laugh.  He was a constant help and inspiration to his younger colleagues whom he always treated with kindness and respect.  But in the end it will be the generation of Georgetown students who will remember his deep love for the theater, his refusal to accept sloppy or incomplete thinking in either written or spoken discourse, and his insistence upon the necessity for art in people’s lives.