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In Memoriam: Leslie Willson
Posted on Monday, February 04 @ 08:32:39 EST
Topic: Miscellaneous

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Amos Leslie Willson, Jr. was born on June 14, 1923, in Texhoma, Oklahoma (where the hospital was, though his family lived in the Texas part of town at the time). He died on December 28, 2007, in Austin, Texas.

With his parents, Amos Leslie Willson and Richie Hobgood Willson, and sister, Patricia Mae Willson, Leslie moved from town to town within the Texas panhandle during the Great Depression before settling in Amarillo, where he graduated from Amarillo High School. He was a voracious reader and, contemplating a writing career, entered the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a degree in journalism. World War II interrupted his education, and he joined the Army, where he discovered he had a gift for learning German and quickly became fluent.

Toward the end of his three-year military service, Leslie was assigned along with other German-speaking soldiers to a top secret operation at Fort Hunt, Virginia, known only by its mailing address "P.O. Box 1142"—an operation only recently declassified. He and the other men of P.O. Box 1142 lived with and interrogated high-level prisoners of war with knowledge of Germany's then-superior submarine and rocket technology, gleaning information that changed the course of the war. After being ordered never to talk about their mission, the Brotherhood of P.O. Box 1142 is finally able to reminisce, and Leslie was interviewed about those days just days before his death.

After the war, Leslie returned to the University of Texas but switched majors to Germanic Languages. While attending graduate school at UT, he met Margaret Jeanne Redrow, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a fellow graduate student in German. Jeanne and Leslie were married in 1950 in Cincinnati, then moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where Leslie had been admitted to the graduate school. Hermann Weigand, a Sterling Professor of Germanic Languages at Yale, advised Leslie in his acquisition of a PhD; his dissertation, A Mythical Image: The Ideal of India in German Romanticism, was later published by Duke University Press.

While in New Haven, Jeanne and Leslie had a son, Brian in 1951, and a daughter, Juliet in 1953. After being awarded his PhD, Leslie taught briefly at Wesleyan College in Connecticut and Northwestern University in Illinois, before returning to Austin to accept a teaching position at Texas, where another son, Kevin, was born in 1959.

Leslie then taught at Duke University and Penn State University before settling again in Austin as a full professor in 1966, where his family moved into the house he still occupied just before his death. In the intervening years he became a highly respected educator and translator of contemporary German literature, befriending many top German writers along the way, including Günter Grass. He served for eight years as chairman of the German Department at UT and for 20 years published a groundbreaking German literary magazine Dimension. He was recognized for his scholarly work with awards from the Goethe Institute and the German government. He retired as a professor emeritus in 1992.

For many years, Leslie served as the editor of the American Translators Association's newsletter for literary translation Source and, between 1991 and 1993 as President of the Association.

In retirement, Leslie continued to be a voracious reader and corresponded actively with friends all over the globe. Preceded in death by his wife, Jeanne, on May 11, 2006, Leslie died with their beloved German shepherd-husky mix, Thekla von Wallenstein, one of the many dogs they owned during their years together, curled up at the foot of his bed.

Leslie is survived by his three children, Brian, Juliet, and Kevin, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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