Former English Department Chair Reta Madsen Succumbs to Stroke Feb. 26

Longtime English professor and former department chair Reta Madsen died Saturday, Feb. 26, in a New York hospital. Madsen, who suffered a massive stroke earlier in the week, had been on life support.

David Carl Wilson, Arts & Sciences dean, had earlier called the news about Madsen’s grave condition “devastating.”

“I can think of no one who is more loved and respected throughout the Webster community,” Wilson said. “Her teaching, leadership, and guidance were second to none. As our English faculty are fond of pointing out, their department is  the house that Reta built.”

Madsen was long revered for instituting high standards for faculty hires and performance. The consensus is that the English Department’s ever-growing reputation for excellence in undergraduate education is largely because of Reta Madsen’s influence.

Faculty and alumni praised Madsen for her efforts on behalf of students. In the words of Professor Michael Erickson, “It was all about the students. She worked tirelessly for them.”

Madsen studied at Vanderbilt and came to Webster in the late ’60s. She once said that her Webster students were the best students she ever taught. “Mistrust of authority, skeptical, inquisitive. Webster always attracted students like that, and I think the English Department always got more than its share because they felt at home here.”

The Endowed Reta Madsen Scholarship, which grants partial tuition to an English student, has been in existence for four years. Read the 2008 Global Thinking story. Friends and colleagues wishing to make a donation in Reta’s name can contribute to theScholarship by visiting When giving online, select “other” and type “Reta Madsen Scholarship” into the Other Gift Designation box.