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In Memoriam: Charles Ritcheson, 86

By Tanya King
December 23, 2011

Charles Ray Ritcheson, USC University Librarian Emeritus and Colin Rhys Lovell Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus in USC Dornsife, died Dec. 8 at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 86.

Born in 1925 in Maysville, Okla., Ritcheson earned a B.A. in philosophy and classics from the University of Oklahoma in 1946. While an undergraduate, he served in the United States Navy Reserve as a lieutenant, junior grade, 1942–45.

After post-graduate study in history at Harvard University and Zurich University, Ritcheson received his Ph.D. from St. Edmund Hall at Oxford University. In 1951, Ritcheson joined the faculty at Oklahoma College for Women as an assistant professor of history.

He went on to serve as chairman of the history department at Kenyon College and director of graduate studies in history at Southern Methodist University.

In 1971, Ritcheson was appointed the Colin Rhys Lovell Distinguished Professor of History at USC. Three years later, he detoured from teaching to serve as cultural attaché for the U.S. Embassy in London — a position he held until 1977, when he returned to his former post at the university.

“Charles Ritcheson brought to his years as University Librarian a first-rate mind, an impeccable academic background, the rank of University Professor, and the personal charm and panache that made him such a successful cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London,” said Kevin Starr, USC University Professor, professor of history in USC Dornsife, State Librarian Emeritus of California, and associate dean of the USC Libraries.

Between 1984 and 1990, Ritcheson served as University Professor, University Librarian, dean of the USC Libraries, and special adviser to the university president. In 1988, Ritcheson worked with actress Marjorie Lord Volk and Friends of the USC Libraries board president Glenn Sonnenberg to co-found the USC Libraries Scripter Award. He was a strong advocate for library automation, electronic library services, and innovative library spaces — such as Leavey Library, which would be built shortly after his retirement — that supported student research and learning in new ways.

“Much of our work today does indeed continue to build on the foundations Dr. Ritcheson helped put in place a quarter century ago,” said Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries.

Upon his retirement from USC in 1991, Ritcheson was appointed executive vice-president of the Fund for Arts and Culture in Eastern Europe (1991–96), serving as country director for Hungary and Poland. In 1997, he became executive vice-president for planning for the Trust for Museum Exhibitions based in Washington, D.C.

Ritcheson was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, member of both Phi Beta Kappa and the Cosmos Club, and served on the boards of numerous international organizations, such as the Ditchley Foundation, the University of Buckingham, the Friends of the Covent Garden Royal Opera and Ballet, and the Société Française d’Archeologie. In 2000, USC honored him with a Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award.

Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 28, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 3513 N. Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. His family has requested that donations be directed to Doctors Without Borders in lieu of sending flowers.