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“He’ll Be Our Inspiration, Still”: Remembering Robert B. Ruddell, Former IRA Board Member and Influential Author

By Colleen Patrice Clark
 | Mar 25, 2021

Robert B. RuddellRobert B. Ruddell, professor emeritus at University of California, Berkeley, and a noted scholar of early reading comprehension, critical thinking, and motivation, died on March 14. He was 83.

Ruddell was a prolific writer and editor perhaps most known for How to Teach Reading to Elementary and Middle School Students: Practical Ideas From Highly Effective Teachers (Pearson) as well as Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, the first six editions of which were published by the International Reading Association (IRA, now ILA). It is now in its seventh edition as Theoretical Models and Processes of Literacy, published by Routledge.

A past Board member of IRA, Ruddell also served as president of the Reading Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1989. He was a recipient of the William S. Gray Citation of Merit, ILA’s highest honor reserved for lifetime achievement and leadership contributions to the field, as well as the Oscar S. Causey Research Award from the Literacy Research Association.

“The news of the loss of Bob Ruddell, who has brought so much to us in the past, brings great sadness,” said Norman Unrau, professor emeritus at California State University, Los Angeles, and a coeditor with Ruddell on the latest editions of Theoretical Models. “During the years Bob and I worked together, I learned immeasurably from his approaches to problems in literacy research and to methods of presenting them to those in our field. And I know that there are countless educators who have benefited from his spirit and will be saddened by his loss.”

Among those educators is MaryEllen Vogt, a past president of IRA, who was advised by Ruddell when she earned her doctorate in language and literacy from University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). She recalls the day she received her acceptance letter from him as life changing.

“To be Bob’s advisee was the best of all worlds as a graduate student,” she said. “He seemed to know everyone in the reading world and pushed me to know them all, too….His jovial approach to life, his friendship, and his unwavering belief that all kids can learn to read have molded me into the reading teacher I am today.”

Ruddell exceeded in academics early on, finishing high school at just 14 and becoming the youngest student ever to enroll at Morris Harvey College, now Charleston University, at 15. He went on to earn an undergraduate and master’s from West Virginia University, and his PhD from Indiana University.

He was 26 when he joined UC Berkeley, his academic home for the next 35 years.

During his time at UC Berkeley, Ruddell served as acting dean of education at Tolman Hall, directed the Advanced Reading-Language Leadership Program, and served as chair of the Language, Literacy, and Culture faculty group. He worked with 86 doctoral students, advising and directing their research and dissertations.

“He has left a great legacy to the study of reading, not only through his scholarship, but also through his many books for teachers, his leadership in the International Reading Association, and—perhaps most of all—his intellectually rigorous and interpersonally generous mentoring of the next generation of PhD students at Berkeley,” said P. David Pearson, emeritus faculty member at UC Berkeley. “When the topic of language and literacy in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley comes up, Robert Ruddell is the first name that comes to my mind.”

His passing marks a great loss for the literacy world, but as Donna Alvermann, distinguished research professor of language and literacy education at University of Georgia and a coeditor on Theoretical Models said, his legacy will live on. “I know how hard he worked to support teachers and graduate students from across the country. My coeditors and I will miss working with Bob….He’ll be our inspiration, still.”

Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today, ILA’s member magazine.

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