Gilbert Cuthbertson, 1937-2019

There isn’t much I can add to what’s been written about Doc C these last couple of days. The President’s Office sent out this sweet email today that captures the important pieces :

Rice remembers Doc C: ‘We were all so lucky to know him’
Beloved political science professor and resident associate Gilbert Cuthbertson died July 21 at 81

Aside from Sammy the Owl, Edgar Odell Lovett and William Marsh Rice himself, few names are more synonymous with Rice University than Gilbert Cuthbertson.

Affectionately known as “Doc C,” the longtime Rice political science professor and beloved Will Rice College resident associate died July 21 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after a short illness, surrounded by his close friends. He was 81.

For more than 50 years, unlike his countless students who walked through the Sallyport at graduation, Cuthbertson never left Rice, as ubiquitous a presence as the live oaks that grace the campus perimeter. He lived and worked inside the hedges, making his home at Will Rice College, dining every day at the same tables as students, shooting pool with them and beating them at liar’s poker. All the while, “Doc C” taught lessons to generations of Rice students both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Doc C was both a mentor and a friend to thousands of Rice students,” said Brad Hoyt ’84. “He was a pillar of our Rice experience. We were all so lucky to know him.”

Born Nov. 20, 1937, in Missouri, Cuthbertson graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1959 and from Harvard University with a doctorate in 1963. Even though he never attended Rice as a student, he was “the most pro-Rice person” you could meet, according to the Will Rice College website.

An expert on Texas politics and Texas political history, Cuthbertson began teaching at Rice in 1963 and was a founding member of Rice’s Department of Political Science, where he taught political thought, constitutional law and Texas politics until the time of his death. He also authored numerous articles and reviews, served in countless advisory roles and volunteered for numerous university committees.

“Generations of Rice students left his courses understanding the importance of myth, power and value for understanding politics,” said Ashley Leeds, chair of the Department of Political Science. “Students regularly referred to him as a ‘genius’ and a ‘legend’ in their evaluations of his teaching. Part of what they could see in him is how much he loved teaching at Rice, his relationships with Rice students and how his teaching brought great joy to his life.”

Another colleague, Rick Wilson, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Political Science and a professor of statistics and psychology, said Cuthbertson “entranced” many undergraduate students.

“They flocked to his courses,” he said. “He was the only source for teaching constitutional law and political philosophy. While the remainder of the department steadily moved to embrace empirical work, Gilbert steadfastly stuck with the classics. Undergraduates often asked why I couldn’t be more like Doc C. I had no good reply — he was unique and filled a niche that many found enriched their experience at Rice.”

Cuthbertson’s passion for teaching was evident as he racked up teaching accolades over the years, including the prestigious George R. Brown Certificate of Highest Merit in 1993.

“He won almost every teaching award available at Rice because he taught everywhere and every day,” Hoyt said. “His classrooms ranged from the Rice campus to a flea market on the other side of the globe. He was always ready to discuss how classical political theory related to a current event or to explain how some purchase fit in the geopolitical scene of its time.”

“It was a great honor to work beside someone who inspired so many and oozed Rice history,” Leeds added.

This history was on full display during the Rice Centennial in 2012, when Cuthbertson was interviewed for the Rice Centennial Story Project and shared anecdotes from his time at Rice.

But for those who knew and loved Doc C — including Patrick Quayle ’01 and Hoyt, two of Cuthbertson’s former students who were as close to him as family — he was so much more than another Rice professor who loved teaching. An only child who never married, he became family to countless students and members of the Rice community. He was not only their teacher but also a mentor, cheerleader, advocate, traveling companion and, most important, lifelong friend.

“Doc C’s dedication to the residential college system is one of the most remarkable things about his time at Rice,” said Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman, a former magister at Will Rice College. “He was a resident associate at Will Rice College for 55 years, a position he took on just one year after joining Rice as a faculty member in 1963.”

Gorman said Cuthbertson’s longtime involvement reflected his “tremendous commitment” to Rice students and “a record of service that will likely never be duplicated.”

“During his time at Rice, Doc C’s presence and involvement with Will Rice College never wavered,” Gorman continued. “Doc C was at every meal, and you could often find him in the game room. Whether he was playing foosball, pool or ping-pong, he was stellar at them all, but he was an especially talented bridge player who over the years taught hundreds of our students how to play. With his passing, Will Rice is also saying goodbye to their unofficial historian, and the ‘Doc C storytimes’ that were always interesting to listen to.”

“Doc C truly embodied the Rice commitment to our students, and everything he did reflected a deep belief in the power of engaged residential education,” President David Leebron said. “Every encounter with him made me feel a bit more joyful. He will be very deeply missed across the Rice community.”

Cuthbertson was especially proud of the Student Association Mentor Award presented to him in 1989, reflecting his commitment to and focus on Rice students, Hoyt said. Cuthbertson also received Rice’s 2010 Meritorious Service Award, which recognizes Rice alumni, faculty, staff and friends who have rendered significant, sustained voluntary contributions of energy, time and creativity toward the advancement of the university.

In a write-up honoring Cuthbertson when he received the service award, Quayle lauded him as “a person who has committed himself selflessly to supporting and enriching the lives of students not only while they were at Rice, but for years and decades later.”

Quayle also fondly recalled many other memorable anecdotes about Doc C, including his sense of humor, his reluctance to embrace email and his stubborn commitment to his trusty typewriter, which he used to write his final Houston Chronicle op-ed.

“In 2016, amid the presidential campaign and publicity about hacked emails, Doc C called me and said, ‘That’s exactly why I don’t use email!'” Quayle said.

Perhaps there is no better visual representation of Cuthbertson’s impact on the Rice community than a scan of Rice’s classnotes publication, Owlmanac.

“Doc C’s name is often mentioned throughout the pages of Owlmanac by alumni from several different decades and generations,” said Kyndall Krist, the publication’s editor. “They fondly remember their time with him at Rice.”

Alumnus David Klein ’71 summed up Cuthbertson’s multigenerational impact in the spring 2019 Owlmanac.

“We have twins, Shannon ’19 (Will Rice) and Dawson Klein ’19 (Brown), who are thoroughly enjoying their Rice experience…” he wrote. “One of my recent joys was reminiscing with Will Rice’s ageless Doc C, knowing that Shannon and I took his same class 48 years apart.”

Graveside funeral services for Cuthbertson will be held at the New Hope Cemetery in Liberty, Missouri on Aug. 3 at 10 a.m. Details on a campus memorial service are pending. The memorial will be held sometime after the beginning of the fall semester so as many members as possible from Doc C’s Rice family can attend.

“Up until his final days,” Quayle said, “he ensured Rice remained in the heart of those who have passed through the Sallyport, and that is his legacy that will live on.”

I shared some moments of high comedy with Doc, mostly having to do with his . . . stuff. He had a lot of stuff. In particular he had a lot of books. Thus:

This short talk he gave to the Friends in Fondren in 1978 (he was still just a lad!) gives a glimpse of his passion for gathering them:

Rest in peace, Doc. I hope you’ve awakened to find yourself at the greatest estate sale ever.



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9 Responses to Gilbert Cuthbertson, 1937-2019

  1. Cathy Keneda Wyman says:

    I so enjoyed Doc C’s class and fondly recall that he was the first person to use the term “lunatic fringe” in a lecture, having come in so handy in my lifetime in Texas!

  2. Charles says:

    I assume that the Rice Archives are going to get a lot of new stuff from this. Are you prepared for the crazy deluge?

  3. loki_the_bubba says:

    I miss Colleen’s.

  4. Beau Jon Sackett, Will Rice '69 says:

    Nooo! I’m looking forward to coming to Houston this November for my class’s 50th, and had planned to drop over by WRC to see the immortal Doc. C. I showed up at Rice/WRC in 1965, shortly after Doc C did. Bummer …

  5. franciseugenepratt says:

    Did this acclaimed teacher ever offer CE courses at Rice?
    I do NOT remember seeing any such courses being taught.

  6. George Webb says:

    Doc C, Dr. Bill, and John Parish were long-time, beloved, legendary RAs and exemplars of the college system. I’m not sure they make RAs like that anymore.

  7. Maureen Stanford says:

    Something prompted me to google “GG” today, and I was saddened by the news of his passing. He and I attend grammar school in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, lo those many years ago. His father and mine were Federal prison employees, and we lived adjacent to the Lewisburg Federal Prison. He was an amazingly brilliant kid (he left Lewisburg after 8th grade, as his father transferred). I looked him up many years later and we corresponded each Christmas. “GG” was the nickname his mother gave him, and that was his name to us “reservation brats”, as we were called. I will miss his yearly Christmas messages. Maureen Mullan Stanford

  8. Nancy Ritter Fridlind says:

    An early professor of mine soon after his 👋 arrival at Rice, I appreciated his leadership and direction 🙌 (perhaps unintentional) to Harvard Ed School. Also thanks 😊 to History professor Charles E Neu! May we all rest in peace when the time comes.

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