Updated: Passings: Virginia Jeanne Rock was founding master of Stong College and influential professor

A celebration of the life of Professor Emerita Virginia Jeanne Rock will be held on Friday, Dec. 18 from 5 to 10pm at Stong College, Stong College Masters Dining Room, as an opportunity to remember and reflect on her many contributions to York University and the field of education.

Virginia Jeanne Rock
Virginia Jeanne Rock

Rock died at the age of 92 on Nov. 17.

She will be remembered by many as, first and foremost, a humanist.

Rock arrived at York in 1965. She was widely known in the York community for her contributions to the Department of English and the American Studies Program, as both a writer and a lecturer. She also served as the graduate program director in the Department of English in the 1980s.

Rock was also the founding Master of Stong College, serving in that role from 1969 to 1978. She was involved in the design of the college building, and introduced participatory democracy (with open committees and town hall ‘general’ meetings) as a way of building a community of students, fellows and staff. She was known as an innovator, and created a first-year general arts program for students that drew upon the talents of leading Canadians and York University.

During her time at York, she exhibited a high level of energy and enthusiasm; she attended almost every college event, and worked long hours, very often forfeiting her own opportunities to help colleagues and students in need, and to take on meaningful issues. She pushed hard to create a cultural life in the college, that included an art gallery, theatre, music rooms, guest performances, symposia, etc., and contributed an article to the college newspaper virtually every issue while she was master.

She was an outstanding role model for young women in a male-dominant organization and time period, and created York’s first Women’s Centre in 1976 in Stong College. She was also involved in creating the School for Women’s Studies.

Rock retired from York University in 1989, but continued to be heavily involved. Admired by her students and faculty alike, she loved and contributed to York well after retirement, continuing as a fellow of Stong and staying in touch with many faculty, staff, administrators and students.

In addition, she is a benefactor of York University and contributor to the Clara Thomas Archives and the Nellie Langford Rowell Library of York University, as well as the Virginia Rock Scholarship at Stong College.

She was the honorary chair of Stong College during its 25th anniversary alumni weekend in 1994, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by York University in June 1994. Rock remained an active fellow of Stong until she was hospitalized in May 2015.

Her career in the field of education spanned 60 years, and prior to her time at York University, Rock taught in Poland and the United States. She was also a co-founder of the Canadian Association of American Studies and served as an early president.