Publication Date

April 1, 2001

Charles Hill Moffat died at his home in Huntington, West Virginia, on January 8, 2001. He was born in Houston, Mississippi, on August 2, 1912, but spent most of his youth in Senatobia. He was stricken with poliomyelitis just short of his 16th birthday. Remedies were sought without success, including a visit to George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute. A leg brace and a cane, however, provided Moffat mobility and he never allowed polio to interfere with a positive and enthusiastic approach to life. Realizing that he would have to live a generally sedentary life, he decided to make a career of his favorite subject—history.

Upon graduating from the University of Mississippi, he moved to Gordo, Alabama, taught at the local high school, and earned an MA from the University of Alabama. He married Mary Louise Wright. In 1942 he moved to Anderson, South Carolina, to teach at the Anderson Boys' School. He took doctoral classes at the University of North Carolina before rece1vmg a teaching fellowship at Vanderbilt University. During a chance encounter at the Southern Historical Association, Clement Eaton of the University of Kentucky suggested the subject of his dissertation—the career of Charles Tait, a prominent planter and senator from Alabama.

Moffat received his PhD in 1946 from Vanderbilt, and then took a job at Marshall College that same year. He taught at Marshall (University after 1961) until 1977, when a mandatory retirement policy forced him to retire from full-time teaching at the age of 65. Reluctant to leavethe classroom, he continued to teach part-time at Marshall and at the Ironton and Portsmouth branches of Ohio University. His teaching at Ohio University continued until he was in his eighties.

Moffat once estimated that he had some 16,000 students in a career of over 50 years. It was not unusual for him to teach five or more classes a semester because he taught extension courses which were not counted in his normal teaching load. He also directed most of the department's MA theses prior to the 1970s. His stamina and work ethic was astonishing, especially since he gave only essay examinations and always graded them himself.

During his three decades at Marshall, Moffat was arguably—despite his setting very high standards—the school's most popular teacher. His lectures on the Civil War, the South, the frontier, and recent American history are remembered and admired for their clarity, showmanship, enthusiasm, and brilliance. He never used notes, yet each word counted and was delivered with effect. As one of his former students, Alan Gould, noted: "His classroom techniques included the dexterous and dazzling employment of a cane which was exceeded in effect only by the eloquence of his oratory. With the finesse of a fencing master, he wielded his cane as an instrument to emphasize dramatic incidents in history, as a pointer for locating historical sites on maps, and as a baton in directing the tempo and meter of his finely honed lectures."

Moffat's reputation extended beyond the university, and he was in great demand as a speaker, giving hundreds of talks, many of them to civic groups. He especially enjoyed lecturing for the U.S. Army. Following invited talks at West Point and the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, the army sent him in 1962 to Hawaii and the Far East to give a series of lectures on U.S. history to military personnel in Hawaii. His extraordinary teaching load and administrative duties (he was chair of the department for nine years) left him little time for research until his "retirement" in 1977. In the ensuing years, he wrote the history of Marshall University, a biography of congressman Ken Hechler, his memoirs, and a history of the Cabell County Medical Society.

Moffat is survived by Mary, his wife of 62 years, his daughter Mary Moffat Jones, and two grandchildren. Memorial contributions to the Moffat Lectureship may be sent to the Department of History, Marshall University, Huntington, WV 25755.

Marshall University

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