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Robert Burns Lives!
An article by G. Ross Roy - "What Burns means to me".

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Victor Gregg, past president of the Atlanta Burns Club, showing Dr. Roy his Kilmarnock

I met G. Ross Roy several years ago and have never gotten over our first meeting. He has had a tremendous effect on my life and, in particular, my search for the truth about Robert Burns, especially since there is so much nonsense or misinformation about Burns on the internet and in books and periodicals. Dr. Roy’s advice and suggestions on rare books have aided me in my quest to build a private library on Burns, now with over a thousand books on Burns alone and housed in a separate room in my office simply referred to as the Burns Room.

The world, not just the Burns world, is a better place because of people like G. Ross Roy and his lovely wife Lucie. If you look up the word gentleman in the dictionary, you will find his picture. Here is a man who has practiced through the years what he has taught at great universities in America and Canada. Simply put, Professor Roy is, in my opinion, the top Burns scholar in the world today.

He dearly recalls his grandfather, W. Ormiston Roy, and the trip the two of them took to Scotland when Dr. Roy was just an eight-year-old lad. Professor Roy named a fellowship after his grandfather at the University of South Carolina where the G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns and Burnsiana boasts approximately 6,000 items. In addition, the University’s Thomas Cooper Library has one of the foremost collections of Scottish literature anywhere outside Scotland. William Penn Warren wrote a classic some time back (or a “long time since,” if you please) and titled it A Place to Come To. The University of South Carolina is the “place to come to” for studying or researching icons of Scottish literature like Burns, Scott, Hogg, and MacDiarmid, to name a few.  A heads up to those who profess to be Burns scholars - The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, An Illustrated Catalogue, compiled by Elizabeth A. Sudduth, with the assistance of Clayton Tarr, is hot off the press. Watch for a book review of this major Burns catalogue.

Dr. Ross Roy and Dr. Patrick Scott measuring a Kilmarnock

During a recent telephone conversation, I asked Dr. Roy when he first realized or knew that he would spend his life teaching Robert Burns and Scottish Literature. He told me a brief story during his graduate school days of him and his best friend, Aris Domnas, (friends since the sixth grade) cooking a meal in the home of Dr. Roy’s grandfather on a New Year’s Eve while Auld Lang Syne was playing on the radio. At the conclusion of the song, the commentator returned to the air and commented that maybe Burns didn’t write Auld Lang Syne. He heard his grandfather retort, “Oh, hell!” and Dr. Roy’s reply to my query was that “I knew then I’d have to get involved teaching Burns.” I asked if he minded my quoting him and his grandfather, and his reply was Ross Roy vintage: “I don’t mind, Frank, and my grandfather is not going to say anything about it”. (Dr. Roy is an octogenarian and his grandfather passed away years ago!)

I now come to a close of the series on What Burns Means to Me that has been posted on this website over the last six weeks. I have learned something from each of these wonderful Scots and, in particular, I am fascinated with Eddi Reader’s concept of the “Burns Police” regarding her interpretation of the songs of Burns. It is fitting that Dr. Roy concludes this wee series of some of the most distinguished teachers, writers, speakers and singers in Scotland today.

What Burns Means to Me
Professor G. Ross Roy, Curator
Department of English
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina. 

Dr. Kenneth Simpson of the University of Glasgow, Susan Shaw, Dr. Ross Roy, and Frank Shaw

Five prominent Scots persons have written eloquently on the topic What Burns Means to Me and I could add little to what Gerard Carruthers, Billy Kay, David Purdie, Eddi Reader and Kenneth Simpson have already said. Burns has a personal meaning for every reader; as my grandfather W. Ormiston Roy told me there was no situation in life for which he could not find a   suitable quotation from the Bard.

What I can add from the vantage of well over a half century of Burns study, and as sort of a closing paragraph to the above mentioned writers about What Burns Means to Me is this. In my lifetime Robert Burns has brought me into contact with an extraordinary array of people whom I could not have met other than through our mutual admiration for and love of the man and the poet Robert Burns. I have led a full life with much to be thankful for and some things to regret, but that life would have been immeasurably poorer without the contacts I have enjoyed with other Burnsians. All of this I owe to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.    

(FRS: 3.24.09)

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