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John Lowe: "a guardian angel . . in a cap and blue seer sucker suit"

John LoweJohn Wharton Lowe, III, passed away unexpectedly August 5, 2023. Dr. Lowe retired in February from the University of Georgia faculty, where he was Barbara Lester Methvin Distinguished Professor of English for the last ten years. In that time, he touched many lives with his kindness, wit, and support. Below some of his students share why Dr. Lowe is so important to all of us.



I’ve never quite known someone who, at their passing, it felt like the entire world mourned. Dr. Lowe was an inspiring scholar, a generous mentor, a compassionate friend, and a kind soul. I am grateful to count myself among the many lucky ones who learned from him. To have him in your corner was a blessing. Always gracious. Always kind. Always encouraging. He is dearly, dearly missed. We will proudly carry on his legacy by continuing to do the work that made him so proud.

We all have a guardian angel flying around the skies in a cap and blue seersucker suit. How lucky are we?  

Dr. Sidonia Serafini

Assistant Professor

Georgia College & State University

John Lowe and Isiah Lavender

In 2019, Dr. Lowe invited me to the Furious Flower Poetry Festival in DC. This was to be a star-studded celebration of the greatest contemporary and emerging Black poets. The weekend began with a black-tie gala, dinner, and reading, which was obviously induced, as it would in anyone, a bit of star-struck anxiety. As I was there, I saw how everyone knew John and loved him. But, instead of basking in the comfort of being a well-respected scholar, John instead would consistently introduce me, at the time his Ph.D. candidate, as his student. He would continue to push me forward, telling folks about what I was working on at the time, inviting them to think of me as a peer rather than a nervous grad student.

As we sat at the dinner, he remarked on a little UGA pin I had placed in my lapel.

“Oh, I need to get one of these, yours looks really nice.”

“Thanks! I thought I should rep my new alma mater.”

Reflecting how John was the reason I was there that night, I quickly offered “Here.”

We good southerners like to gift, especially spontaneously. Gifts tie us together through memory and moment.

Handing it to him, I said, “You’re the reason I’m here. Consider the least thank you.”

“Oh, that’s too nice. Thank you.” And he immediately put it on. This may be me projecting, but he seemed quite proud of the gift, seeming to sit up a bit straighter to show it off.

He bugged me for other little gifts—pictures from graduation, for example. But I always knew he wanted to celebrate and remember his students, all 29 of us he hooded and the many more he advised. He’s an inspiration and an example who will never be forgotten.

Dr. Cameron Lee Winter

Marion L. Brittain Fellow

Georgia Tech

John at his retirement party


In March of 2022 Dr. John Lowe was on my mind. I was applying for a unique position at my job and needed to explain why I was interested in living in a residence hall on top of teaching multiple classes at Clemson. Dr. Lowe had once modeled hospitality at the highest level. It was a meaningful experience that I could mine for its lessons about teaching across multiple spaces.

So, I wrote a bit in my application about the importance of learning in and out of classrooms and Dr. Lowe’s influence in mapping what this could look like. I’ll share a brief excerpt in this tribute:

“Sharing a meal in a comfortable setting was integral to a meaningful out-of-class interaction in graduate school at the University of Georgia. My Southern Literature professor, Dr. Lowe, a recent transplant to Georgia from Louisiana, invited students in our seminar to his house. I was eager to be hosted. I would get a glimpse inside a full professor’s home that would satisfy my curiosity about one’s quality of life as an academic. I would also enjoy Louisiana cooking. My professor was a great host, ranked up there with my mother, who understands hospitality as a sacred act. By comparison, unlike Lowe’s home that night, the classroom is a space where the dominance of its conventions made me want to hide as a student for fear of violating unspoken rules. The effort to make students feel at home during this dinner put me at ease with my peers while we were all acclimating to a strange place; this allowed us to foster deeper connections that deepened throughout the semester.”

I cling to this memory now, along with Dr. Lowe’s laugh, pep talks that buoyed this weary dissertator, wonderful fashions, and brilliance.

Thank you, Dr. Lowe, for loving life, literature, culture, and your students the way you did. You were a marvel, and so many of us will continue to cherish your memory. Thank you for sharing your time, talents, and resources as fabulously and often as you did. You are missed.

Dr. Tareva Johnson


Clemson University

John in his office
John in his office


Dr. Lowe knew more than I believed was possible for us mortals to know (How did his brain & heart hold so much without breaking?). But of all he knew, I recognize his perfect understanding of the ancient principle of xenia, or hospitality. If ever anyone entertained angels unaware, I hope it was John Lowe. He would have shown the very best that we humans can be— so warm, thoughtful, generous, and kind. Each time I was honored to dine at his table, I was the only vegetarian present. So, each time, Dr. Lowe cooked an entirely separate meal, just for me. I’m sure I don’t need to say that those meals were uncommonly delicious. Dr. Lowe always introduced me as his “old friend,” to my great honor. Through him, I met such extraordinary beings as Natasha Trethewey, Bob Levine, his beautiful beloved wife June Lowe, and that thief of my heart, his cat Calixa, aka the undying Methuselah. And that’s just in person. On the page, John Lowe introduced me to hundreds of people without whom I’d be so much less anchored, capable— even happy. Everyone from his pal Ernest Gaines to Cristina García, Jesmyn Ward, George Washington Cable, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and, to my astonishment, William Faulkner. I could go on. Dr. Lowe is such an impossibly rich and expansive personality. I will count it one of the great honors of my life that he believed in, indeed championed, me, my writing, and my career. The only hiccup in our relationship is that, according to Dr. Lowe, I do not love Henry James enough. That may be true. But I do love John Wharton Lowe III completely— and it will always boggle my mind that I formed even a blip on his radar. What a star.

Kelsey R. McQueen

PhD Candidate

University of Georgia

As we remember Dr. Lowe with great fondness and grieve his absence, we say goodbye to a wonderful human, brilliant scholar, and endlessly supportive mentor. In the last few months that I knew him, Dr. Lowe would sign his emails to me “your fan.” Despite being the brightest in the room he reflected his intellect and countless achievements on others, always making whoever he spoke to feel capable and intelligent. Dr. Lowe always had time for his students, and his support enriched all our lives. He leaves behind a heavy loss and a legacy of numerous lives touched by his genius, humility, kindness, and warmth. He was a thoughtful, generous person, and he had impeccable style to boot. His seersucker suit is notorious.

Beyond his professional support, every semester, he invited students into his home where he cooked exquisite multi-course meals. He took a legitimate interest in the lives of all of us. He never bragged about himself, never went on about his triumphs but always attended to whoever he was with so that we all felt seen, appreciated, and cared for, though I’m sure he had countless interesting stories and ideas of his own. Even more, Dr. Lowe made everyone laugh with his great sense of humor. When he met my husband for the first time he exclaimed, “Ah, here’s Ruth’s sugar daddy!” and stretched out his hand to greet him. I will always look back on this and all my memories with Dr. Lowe with a smile. He loved his wife June dearly and credited her with his many successes— always speaking of her with great affection. I’ll miss Dr. Lowe, but I feel forever lucky to have been his student. I’m grateful for the exceptional example he set as a professor, friend, and mentor.

Ruth Myers 

PhD Candidate 

University of Georgia

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