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Former history professor Rhys Isaac dead at 72

Rhys Isaac, former Distinguished Visiting Professor of Early American History at the College, has died of cancer. He was 72.

Isaac, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for his book “The Transformation of Virginia, 1740 -1790,” enjoyed an exemplary career in teaching and research, most especially in his scholarship on Colonial North America. He remains the only Australian historian ever to win a Pulitzer.

Isaac served several stints at William & Mary. He came in August 1998 and spent a year as the James Pinckney Harrison Professor of History. He returned from August 2002 to December 2005, and again from August 2006 to December of that year as a Visiting Distinguished Professor of History and a research associate with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

“The Department of History was saddened to learn today of the passing of Professor Rhys Isaac, our friend and colleague, who enriched the College of William & Mary with his deep knowledge of, and love for, the history of Colonial Virginia," said Phil Daileader, chairman of the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History. “To those of us who had the privilege and honor of working alongside Rhys, he is remembered as much for his generosity and for his irrepressibly boisterous high spirits as for his scholarly accomplishments.

"Even as Rhys grew increasingly ill during the last few months, he continued to write notes of great grace, beauty, and hope to his friends and colleagues at William & Mary.  The College always remained in his thoughts; Rhys remained, and will always remain, in ours.”

The bulk of this teaching career – 1971-1999 -- was spent at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, where he was known for his astute advice to colleagues on their research presentations, their drafts, articles and books.

“There will be few of us who have not been touched in some way by the generous advice of this scholar of such rare qualities,” said Jim Hammerton, Head of the School of Historical and European Studies at La Trobe. “I know that his loss will be deeply felt.”

The funeral will be private. A memorial service is being planned.