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‘Superman editor’ Ron Schoeffel lived for scholarship

Ron Schoeffel was an editor at the University of Toronto Press, where he edited the Collected Works of Erasmus.


The phrase "a gentleman and a scholar" could have been invented with Ron Schoeffel in mind. And if you throw in "family man," "valued colleague" and "superb editor," you'd have Dr. Schoeffel in a nutshell.

In his decades-long career as an editor at the University of Toronto Press, he founded the Collected Works of Erasmus project, an ambitious plan to print all the works of the prolific philosopher, scholar and essayist.

Dr. Schoeffel was also involved in many other projects at UTP, notably the Toronto Italian Studies series (more than 100 volumes), the Collected Works of Northrop Frye (30 volumes), the Collected Works of George Grant (four volumes), the Da Ponte Italian Library (classic Italian literature, philosophy and history in English translation, 25 volumes to date) and the Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (17 volumes published, eight more under way).

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"Ron truly lived the definition of the word 'gentleman,' " said John Yates, chief executive officer of the University of Toronto Press. "Whether he was dealing with an intern or a board member, everyone was treated with respect and kindness. He always had a smile on his face and treated everyone as if they were his lifelong friends.

"He was famous for his kind, personalized letters of rejection."

Dr. Schoeffel died at home in Toronto of a heart attack on July 4 at 77. He was predeceased by his wife of 50 years, Jone, who died in March after a long battle with cancer. They had two sons, Mark and John, both of whom live in the United States, and three grandchildren.

Dr. Schoeffel joined UTP in 1963. A few years later, he discovered that most of the works of Dutch Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) were not available in good English translations. The discovery came about when he tried to find a copy of the great man's correspondence to read while his family was away, and was stunned to find that it did not exist in English.

It was a surprising scholarly lapse, considering Erasmus's stature, and the fact that his influence was so wide-ranging. In his Adagia, he collected and commented on more than 3,000 Latin and Greek proverbs and sayings, popularizing a number of phrases commonly used today, including "Make haste slowly," "No sooner said than done" and, "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Determined to correct this lack, Dr. Schoeffel consulted with his boss at UTP, editor Francess Halpenny, along with Erasmus scholars from around the world. In 1968, he founded UTP's Collected Works of Erasmus project.

The original plan called for 40 volumes, but since then the Erasmus collection has expanded to a projected 89 volumes, to be published over decades. It is a massive venture by any standard, nearly unprecedented in academia or elsewhere.

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"Perhaps one of Harvard [University Press's] big projects – the Loeb Classical Library, for example – comes close to the scale of the Erasmus project," Dr. Yates said. "It's a major, international undertaking."

Ronald Martin Schoeffel immigrated to Canada from Germany with his parents, Martin and Anne Schoeffel. He earned his PhD from the University of Toronto and attended Cornell University.

It was at Cornell that he met Jone Kirk of Butte, Mont. They were engaged in Vienna, where she was studying at the University of Vienna on a Fulbright fellowship.

Dr. Schoeffel officially retired in 2001, but continued his relationship with UTP. "He loved Erasmus and all things Italian, the two areas he kept working on after his official retirement," Dr. Yates said.

By all accounts, Dr. Schoeffel was a superb editor. Marcel Danesi, who worked with him on the Italian Studies series and, later, the Toronto Studies in Semiotics, described his colleague as a "Superman editor" in a 2001 article in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing that marked Dr. Schoeffel's retirement.

Dr. Yates said Dr. Schoeffel was "respected for his judgment and ability to discern quickly what was a genuine scholarly contribution; he was well read in the core works of Western literature and philosophy. And he loved to travel to discover first-hand the roots of the work he edited."

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As a colleague, Dr. Yates said, Dr. Schoeffel was "funny, discreet, humble, kind, very generous, patient, famous for his contributions to staff Christmas potlucks.

"He seemed never to get angry even during the most contentious editorial meetings. Only the photocopier visibly annoyed him."

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