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John Pilkington, distinguished professor emeritus of English at the University of Mississippi, died, June 4, 2012, at his home in Oxford. The funeral service will be held Monday, June 11, at 11:00 at First Presbyterian Church following visitation at Fellowship Hall from 10:00 to 11:00. Reverend John Semmes will officiate. Burial will follow in Oxford Memorial Cemetery. Waller Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Dr. Pilkington was graduated valedictorian for the class of 1940 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He edited the college newspaper and was elected to membership in Omicron Delta Kappa. When Centre received a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, he was elected to membership. After graduation, he pursued graduate study in English at The Johns Hopkins University for a year before he was commissioned an ensign in the Navy in February 1942. In 1943, Dr. Pilkington married Lillian Elizabeth Kirk. He retired with the rank of lieutenant commander and continued his graduate education, receiving the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.
In 1952, Dr. Pilkington joined the faculty of the English Department as an assistant professor. He progressed through the professorial ranks to full professor, while teaching writing, and directing masters’ and doctoral candidates. From 1960 to 1978, he edited Studies in English, a professional journal sponsored by the Department of English. His first published book, Francis Marion Crawford, appeared in 1965. He followed it in 1970 with a study of Henry Blake Fuller and in that year he became associate dean of the Graduate School.
In 1975, Dr. Pilkington published Stark Young: A Life in the Arts in two volumes. This manuscript won the Jules F. Landry award for the year’s most outstanding manuscript submitted to Louisiana State University Press. Two years later, he became the first scholar to be designated by the University of Mississippi as Distinguished Professor. In 1979, Centre College presented him its Distinguished Service Award in recognition of outstanding service to Centre College and to mankind, and several years later the College of Idaho awarded him the honorary degree of Humanitatis Doctor. In 1981, Dr. Pilkington’s critical evaluation of William Faulkner’s nine major novels, entitled The Heart of Yoknapatawpha, was published, followed in 1985 by Stark Young. For more than fifty years, Dr. Pilkington has been associated with Friends of the Library, and for the past thirty years he has served as its president.
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Lillian (Lolly) Kirk Pilkington. Other survivors include their son, Charles Kirk Pilkington, who with his wife, Annie Lee, resides in Charlottesville, Virginia; and three grandsons, Taylor, Carter, and Vance. A sister, Grace Pilkington Harper of Panama City Beach, Florida also survives. Three other sisters predeceased Dr. Pilkington.
In honor of Dr. Pilkington’s service to his country, the flag of the United State Navy will be flown at Waller Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the John Pilkington Library Endowment Fund, P.O. Box 249, University, MS 38677, or First Presbyterian Church, 924 Van Buren Avenue, Oxford, Mississippi 38655.