ST. PETERSBURG — From the first day of class with literature professor Bob Hall, students knew they had found someone special.
Mr. Hall, a man with a square jaw, bushy eyebrows and craggily handsome features, paced the room like the talented actor he was, delving into his many areas of expertise in a deeply resonant voice.
He reached out to students of all ages at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg using accessible language, not academic jargon.
Though he never finished his doctoral dissertation, colleagues considered him the "soul" of the school.
Mr. Hall, one of the most celebrated professors in the history of USF St. Petersburg, died Saturday of lung cancer. He was 78.
"Bob was truly a master teacher, not only to students enrolled in his classes but to his colleagues as well," said USF St. Petersburg history professor Ray Arsenault.
He was fluent in British literature, world literature and literary criticism. Seminars explored Latin American and Russian literature, James Joyce, religious and existential literature.
"He seemed to have read everything and absorbed it," Arsenault said.
In part, people remembered him because he took risks.
"He used to say, 'I'm a professor, so I think I should profess things,'" said Ann Hall, 52, an English professor at Ohio Dominican University and Mr. Hall's daughter. "Sometimes that offended people and sometimes that inspired people."
He liked Keith Olbermann but not Sarah Palin; expensive dress shirts but not ties; sloppy burgers at Harvey's 4th Street Grill and an ever-present cigarette. After a friend talked him into getting a bicycle, Mr. Hall could be seen pedaling the streets, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
He was born in Lisbon, Ohio, the son of a single mother who was a lawyer. He flirted with the priesthood but decided to study literature instead, earning a master's degree from John Carroll University and doing more graduate work at Ohio State University, where he also taught.
After a divorce, he headed south. Mr. Hall taught at the University of Tampa, then joined what is now USF St. Petersburg in 1970. While in Tampa, he landed the role of George, a rumpled professor, in the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By his retirement in 2005, the university had honored him as its most outstanding professor several times. In 2006 he was named a fellow in the school's Florida studies program.
"You don't encounter a colleague like Bob Hall more than once in a lifetime," Arsenault said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.