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Willard E. Arnett

Willard E. Arnett

Will's life began July 23, 1921 and ended April 1, 2017. Next to last of the five surviving children of Elias and Dorsey Montgomery Arnett, Will grew up in rural southwest Virginia. He roamed the hills, hunting rabbits with his brothers and cousins and never lost a profound love for the land and for his family. Hard work was familiar to him and though his later life was very different from that of his parents, their influence was always evident. The first of his family to graduate high school, he spent a year in the CCC before entering Berea College intending to study agriculture.

Pearl Harbor was bombed when he was a sophomore and he struggled to decide what to do. Before long he enlisted in the Army Air Force. Around this time one of his college teachers sent him a membership for the Book of the Month Club. The first book he received was by the philosopher, George Santayana, who later became the subject of his doctoral dissertation and some of the books he later wrote. While stationed in France he became friends with a local family. It was a friendship that endured and included later generations of the family.

After the war Will returned to Berea to major in English and study philosophy. At Columbia University he received advanced degrees. His first appointment was at the University of Arkansas where he went with his wife, Pat, to begin a long teaching and writing career and where the first of their children, Susan and John were born. Later the family moved to Iowa and added a son, Nicholas. Then it was to Pittsburgh and Chatham College where he spent the next thirty years with additional teaching assignments at the University of Arkansas, Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh. The second daughter of the family, Lesley, was born in Pittsburgh and was educated at The Ellis School where her mother taught, and at Chatham College with her father.

With reason and wit, Will was devoted to promoting the principles of liberal arts education as a basis for a life of reason and critical thinking. He was admired and respected by students and colleagues and was honored as the Anna Randolph Darlington Gillespie Professor of Philosophy until he retired as Professor Emeritus.

Recently, looking back on his long life, Will Arnett, scholar, writer, teacher, beekeeper, husband, father, and "Grampy" was especially grateful for opportunities and experiences he and his family had shared: knowledge and friendships of colleagues and others, family camping and long summers in Nova Scotia and Maine for writing, travel to France to visit wartime friends and to China for the fiftieth anniversary of the Republic with close friends, natives who had fled the Communists half a century earlier.

He especially enjoyed his years of retirement on a small farm in western Pennsylvania where he remodeled the antebellum farmhouse, built fences, raised sheep, cut wood for the stoves and kept bees and, later, spent his final years in the mountains of North Carolina, still a proud beekeeper.

There were some hard times, especially losing beloved Lesley, the mother of Sarah. Now he too leaves the family that will dearly miss him: Pat, his wife of more than 66 years, Susan Nivin and her husband David, John, Nick and his wife Cindy, and his lovely grandchildren and great grandchildren James and Claudia Nivin, Heather and Matt Moore, Sarah Tujague and Callie, Ezekiel and Silas Nivin.
Condolence cards may be sent to the family at or to Po Box 945, Hendersonville, NC 28793.