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Notice regarding Robert Purks Maccubbin

Provost Peggy Agouris sent the following message to the campus community Nov. 18, 2020. - Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

Emeritus Professor Robert (Bob) Purks Maccubbin passed away on November 3, 2020 in Williamsburg.  Professor Maccubbin was born in Baltimore, Maryland on October 30, 1939. His father was superintendent of Baltimore public schools, a position that demonstrated to Bob the joys of learning and teaching from a young age. He graduated with a degree in Biology and Biophysics from Johns Hopkins in 1961. From there, he pursued advanced degrees in English at the University of Illinois.

He arrived at William & Mary as a 24-year-old instructor of English in 1964, shortly after completing his M.A. and Ph.D. coursework. Upon completion of his dissertation in 1968, he was promoted to Assistant Professor and advanced through all the professorial ranks until his retirement in 2005. His colleague, Emeritus Professor of English Peter Wiggins, upon hearing of his friend’s passing, remarked, “Bob was William & Mary.” Professor Maccubbin earned this distinction not just through his long service, but also through his well-regarded teaching and his committed and broad-ranging scholarship.

Eighteenth-century British literature was Professor Maccubbin’s teaching field, and in his later career he came to focus on Scottish literature. He had a special love for the work of Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. His colleague Lee Alexander recounts his generosity to students; he would regularly invite his Scottish Literature classes to his home to “see and work with his massive Scottish literature and culture collection—a full library of materials, lining every wall floor to ceiling, including some very rare and valuable volumes, which he urged students to look through to discover treasures of their own.”

The throughline of Professor Maccubbin’s scholarship was his editorial work, meant in three interrelated senses. According to colleague Adam Potkay, “Bob had a keen editor's eye, and line-editing was his forte”; he helped improve the writing of others. Well beyond his line-editing, however, Professor Maccubbin was the editor of a major journal in his field, 18th Century Life, which he helmed for twenty-four years, stepping down at his retirement. In this capacity, he orchestrated a number of important themed issues, including one republished as a book ‘Tis Nature’s Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality During the Enlightenment (Cambridge UP 1987). His strengths as a commissioning editor were demonstrated fully in his personal favorite amongst his works, The Age of William III and Mary II: Power Politics and Patronage 1688-1702: A Reference Encyclopedia and Exhibition Catalogue (W&M 1990), which he co-edited with his wife, Martha Hamilton-Phillips. He also collaborated with Martha on an important contribution to Williamsburg's local history, editing Williamsburg, Virginia: A City Before the State, 1699-1999 (City of Williamsburg 2000)a collection of deeply researched and accessibly written essays on Williamsburg's history, put together on the occasion of its 300th anniversary. Professor Maccubbin worked hard to ensure his volume was inclusive—attending especially to Native Americans and African Americans' foundational presence in and contributions to Williamsburg—and to ensure that the resulting narrative was not simply a rose-tinted celebration but rather a critical historical accounting and durable resource.

Many colleagues’ most fond memories of their compatriot tie to Professor Maccubbin’s pleasure in entertaining. His family notes, “He greatly enjoyed his annual ‘Christmas Garden’, creating humorous and elaborate miniature villages. He made marble houses and homemade holiday cards. He enjoyed billiards, coconut cake, the Orioles, pastries, Pluto the dog, gardening, musing, traveling, reading, and above all, Scotland.” He enjoyed sharing these passions at the joyous, freewheeling dinners and parties he and Martha hosted—none more legendary than the series of bonfire lit and music infused cèilidhs they held on the grounds of their home, which left all comers feeling a bit more vibrant and free. 

Robert P. Maccubbin is survived by his loving wife of 34 years, Martha Hamilton-Phillips; his children, Gwyneth Tatum (Carter), Aubrey Maccubbin (Leah), and Glencora Israel (Jason); his older brother Don Maccubbin (Linda); and his six grandchildren, Alexander Maccubbin, Ryland Tatum, Kimball Tatum, Aurelia Maccubbin, Octavian Israel, and Arabella Maccubbin. 

A celebration of his life will be held the first day of Spring, March 20, 2021, public health conditions permitting. Details will be shared in due time. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Historic Scotland Foundation, the Williamsburg Community Foundation or a charity of your choice. 




Peggy Agouris


William & Mary

The Brafferton

P.O. Box 8795

Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795

(757) 221-1993 (office)

(757) 221-1510 (fax)