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Robert Burns Lives!
Volume 1 Chapter 15

By Frank R. Shaw, 1320 Twelve Oaks Circle, Atlanta, GA, 30327-1862 USA

This past August, I had the honor of speaking at a symposium sponsored by the University of South Carolina honoring Dr. G. Ross Roy on his 80th birthday. The festivities also included the University’s 15th anniversary of the G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, Burnsiana & Scottish Poetry. The symposium was aptly named “Robert Burns In His Time and After. I have spoken at many events in my life and, to say the least, this was a singular honor for me.

Robert Burns is the common denominator. He brings people together from all walks of life. To love Burns, you have to love your fellow man. Burns did! I do not do it as well as Burns, but I think Ross Roy does. From time to time, I speak bluntly, too bluntly if the truth must be told. Sometimes the Shaw in me causes me to throw a stiff arm or say something too strongly that, many times, I later regret. After all, Charles Bascombe Shaw and his wife, Mattie Norvelle Rogers Shaw, who bore him ten children, named their baby “Frank”. There are times when I’m not proud of the fact that I have lived up to being “frank”. Sometimes, “too frank”. Enough said.

I’ve never seen Ross without a smile on his face, a kind word on his lips, a merry twinkle in his eye, a chuckle in his voice, and a warm, welcoming hand extended to shake. If anyone comes close to being the consummate gentleman that Ross Roy is, Burns included, then more power to them. I’ll never make it, but maybe you will!

I’ve said all that to say this - they came from near and far to pay tribute to Ross Roy on his 80th birthday. They came from down the street and across the pond. They came from the states of South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, California, Indiana, New York and many from the auld country - Scotland. They came by car; they came by plane. They rode together; they rode alone. They came for one reason and that was to say to Ross and his wonderful wife, Lucie, “I love you!” or “Thank you for what you have done for all of us who love Burns and Scottish literature”. I remember someone telling me a couple of years ago that if Ross was not the top Burns scholar in the world, he sure was in the top three.  When I inquired who the other two were, the reply was “I don’t know!” Friends from all over simply came to pay tribute to the greatest Burns scholar in the world.

It is for this reason that I have chosen to dedicate the following to Roy and Lucie Roy. I chose to pay tribute to a man who has given so much to so many over the past 50+ years. There is a song from my youth by Phil Spector written in 1958 that reminds me of Ross Roy - “To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him, and I do”. The lyrics were written for such a man as Ross Roy!  Unapologetically, the song expresses my feelings. If the above sounds a wee “mushy”, too bad. As my daughter-in-law, Denise, (one of the best things to ever happen to our little family) says to my two darling grandchildren, Ian and Stirling, when she draws the line with them, “Get over it! That is the way it is!”

Burns Scholar Ross Roy Celebrates
80th Birthday

August 20, 2004 was a special day for Burns scholars around the world - America’s beloved G. Ross Roy celebrated his 80th birthday. Participants gathered at the University of South Carolina in Columbia to join the festivities honoring Professor Roy and Lucie, his beloved wife. The program speakers paid personal tribute to Dr. & Mrs. Roy at a dinner the night before the symposium at a local hotel. 

The birthday celebration was held in conjunction with another festive occasion, the 15th anniversary of the G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, Burnsiana & Scottish Poetry at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library. The University’s Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, headed by Dr. Patrick Scott, also presented an exhibit entitled “Robert Burns in His Time and After” displaying many books, poems, pictures, songs and other items about and by Burns.

The G. Ross Roy Collection consists of approximately 15,000 volumes of which nearly 5,000 are on Burns. The Roy Collection is considered the best Burns collection in North America and, in this writer’s opinion, rivals those in Glasgow and London. The University acquired most of the vast collection from Professor and Mrs. Roy in 1989.

Not satisfied with just donating their magnificent collection, the Roys established a fellowship in honor of Professor Roy’s grandfather, Ormiston Roy, who taught his young grandson his love for Burns and other Scottish writers. The fellowship provides opportunity for scholars to spend five weeks during the summer studying Burns or other Scottish authors. Fellowship recipients this past summer were Thomas Keith of New York City and Dr. Carol McGuirk of Florida Atlantic University, both noted Burns scholars. 

A surprise for those in attendance at the symposium was the unveiling of three copies of the 1786 Kilmarnock edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect that were displayed side by side in an enclosed case. Dr. Patrick Scott indicated this was an historic occasion in that it was the first time in over a hundred years that three Kilmarnocks had been publicly displayed together. The University through the largesse of Dr. & Mrs. Roy owns one of the three copies, and the other two are owned by K.D. Kennedy (Raleigh, NC), and Susan and Frank Shaw (Atlanta, GA). Many of the Burnsians in attendance had never seen one Kilmarnock in their lifetime, and here they were able to view three in one setting.

Featured speakers included Kenneth Simpson, Gerard Carruthers and James Mackay from Scotland. Others on the program were Thomas Keith from New York, Jonathan Pons of Missouri, Carol McGuirk of Florida, Esther Hovey from California, Thorne Compton of South Carolina, and Frank Shaw from Georgia. The symposium also featured two films on Burns, The Romance of Robert Burns, produced in 1937, and the 1959 film Robbie and His Mary.

A unique commemorative Burns keepsake was given to all symposium attendees. It featured a numbered title page of the Kilmarnock Burns from Professor Roy’s collection and was printed by English Professor Scott Gwara at the University’s Maxey Press.

According to University records, Dr. Roy started teaching at the University of South Carolina in 1966. He founded Studies in Scottish Literature, a scholarly journal, in July 1968. He was told at the time that he would be lucky to find enough information for one volume. Interestingly, I just received my 2004 hardback copy consisting of volumes XXXIII and XXXIV.

Dr. Roy was awarded an honorary degree from Edinburgh University in 2002 for his work regarding Robert Burns. He is also an honorary president of the Burns World Federation and is an honorary member of the Atlanta Burns Club. Professor Roy will be honored March 11-13, 2005 at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, NC during the Charles Bascombe Shaw Memorial Scottish Heritage Symposium.

In conclusion I say, “Thank you, Professor Roy, for your scholarship, the books you have written and edited, the countless articles you have published, your warmth, your ready acceptance of anyone who shows interest in Burns or other Scottish writers, and for the wonderful books collected during your lifetime that are now available for students to research. More importantly, thank you for being a scholar and ‘one of us’. Burns, had he known you, would have written more than one poem about you with pen on paper or diamond stylus on a windowpane. He would have been proud to have such a loving and scholarly friend as you.”  (FRS: 12-29-2004)

Shaw, Roy, Kennedy

Lucie and Ross Roy

Three Kilmarkocks

Return to February/March 2005 Index page  |  Return to Robert Burns Lives Index


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