The University of Southern Mississippi lost a beloved professor of the Department of English on Oct. 16. Michael Salda, 57, was a scholar of medieval literature and a master teacher who offered a wide range of courses enjoyed by many students.
Among these were Fundamentals of English Grammar, Chaucer, British Literature and Arthurian Studies and the like. A native of Nebraska, Salda received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago. In 1991, he joined the Southern Miss faculty and ranked as an official professor in 2014.
“Michael Salda was a dedicated teacher, a fine scholar of medieval literature as well as hilarious Arthurian cartoons and a long-serving and steadfast chair of the English department,” said Maureen Ryan, professor of English and interim dean of the Southern Miss College of Arts and Letters.
“Michael was the most valued of colleagues. He was our go-to expert on Robert’s Rules of Order and a patient technology guru. He was a gentleman and a scholar in the fine, old sense—a quiet, strong presence and a man of absolute integrity. The English department will be diminished without him.”
Salda was a tenured faculty member who hustled a versatile triad of teaching, research and service. Salda was able to skillfully balance aspects of his life, a task difficult for most to achieve and maintain. He served on several committees, including national ones. He served as department chair for several years and has left behind a legacy to the department. Salda was responsible for putting numerous sections of ENG 203 (World Literature) online for the department’s first time.
In his effort, Salda won for the department a grant from the Pew Foundation and a national prize for his roles.
Salda was a master of Arthurian studies, from its fifth century origins in Britain to the present day. His special focus was on modern Arthuriana, for the 20th century saw a major resurgence in Arthurian interest, in history, archaeology, literature and film. He published a book entitled “Arthurian Animation: A Study of Cartoon Camelots on Film and Television.”
“(Salda) knew just about all of it,” said Stanley Hauer, a professor of English. “He was best known for his expertise in Arthurian animated film. Few of us knew that there were hundreds of such films. But in this field, Salda was the absolute master. I was pleased to see that he lived to see the publication of his final word on the subject, ‘Arthurian Animation,’ in 2013.”
Salda’s dissertation was on Chaucer, which Hauer reviewed, being an editor of “The Chaucer Review” at the time.
“I remember thinking, ‘What a sharp fellow this chap is. I wonder where he’ll wind up?’” Hauer said. “Little did I know that we would hire him and he would become one of my closest friends.”
Salda died of complications with multiple sclerosis. He suffered with this disease for nearly a decade. With such a disease, there were some good years, followed by problematic ones.
“The pain must have been intense many days,” Hauer said. “He would suffer periods of immobility, where walking or even typing were difficult. But he never gave up or quit. He was a brave man, a model professor, fiercely diligent to his job and family.”
Salda will be remembered as more than an Arthurian scholar by his family, friends, colleagues and students.
“For many us closest to him, it will be his gentle humor and patience,” Hauer said. “He was just so much fun to be around. Always gentle and quiet, he could tell a joke with the panache of a professional comedian.”
Nevertheless, Salda experienced difficult times. Salda’s era as department chair saw considerable campus unrest during Shelby Thames’ presidency. Salda steered the department through several hardships. Salda was known to be an expert with computers and was recognized for being generous in spreading the knowledge he had. Many noticed how Salda overlooked traditional styles of behavior, especially in his clothing. He most frequently wore t-shirts.
“Shakespeare has Ophelia call Hamlet ‘the courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword.’ Those words describe Dr. Salda well,” Hauer said. “Salda taught a memorable senior capstone course on ‘Hamlet’ a few times.
I think he’d appreciate being remembered in the Bard’s words. In the final pages of that play, Horatio eulogizes Hamlet: ‘Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’ And thus I say goodnight to one of the finest colleagues and men I’ve ever had the privilege to know.”
The Salda family requests that donations in honor of Salda be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
For more information, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society website.