Sidney Mathias Baxter Coulling III, the S. Blount Mason Jr. Professor of English Emeritus at Washington and Lee University, died on February 22, 2016, at Kendal at Lexington. He had celebrated his 92nd birthday earlier in the month. He taught for 35 years at his alma mater, from 1956 to 1991 ”When I think of Sid Coulling, I remember that he was called ‘the heart and soul’ of W&L by our former president John Wilson,” said President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “That is the perfect description. And Sid was one of the finest teachers who ever graced a classroom at Washington and Lee.” Sidney Coulling was born on February 13, 1924, in Bluefield, W.Va., and grew up in Tazewell, Va. He earned a B.A. in English from Washington and Lee University (1946) and an M.A. (1949) and Ph.D. in English (1957) from the University of North Carolina.
Coulling’s service and dedication to his students and collegues, as well as the numerous honors and achievements attained all reflect the sense of honor and integrity that Coulling conveyed both in and out of the classroom.
Coulling contributed to the Lexington community as well, with service on the board of directors of Stonewall Jackson Hospital from 1969 to 1974, including a year as the board president. He also belonged to the Fortnightly Club and was a longtime member of the Lexington Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon and an elder. In 1977, Coulling spoke to the W&L Richmond alumni chapter about the importance of professors’ pursuing their own research interests. “I think it’s good for me to be on leave, and good for my students; they’re never the last to get the point. Seeing me go daily to my office, not to prepare for classes but to engage in my harmless and esoteric study, they gain a new sense of Washington and Lee’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge.” Upon his 1991 retirement, his English Department colleagues Ed Craun and Dabney Stuart wrote: “There used to be a podium standing in Payne 21 on which the following graffito had been scrawled: ‘Sidney Coulling taught God the English language.’ Hyperbolic no doubt, like so many undergraduate utterances, the quotation captured well both Sid’s deep commitment to literature and language and the even deeper admiration in which three decades of students have held him.
Coulling is survived by his wife of nearly 58 years, Mary Greenwood Price Coulling, whom he married on June 23, 1958; their children, Margaret Coulling Miller and her husband, Brock, Anne Baxter Coulling and her husband, Dr. Timothy McMahon, a member of W&L’s Class of 1987 and Philip Coulling and his wife, Dr. Sandra Hayslette; and six grandchildren, Nathaniel Tracey-Miller, Rebecca Miller, Elizabeth Miller, William McMahon, Mary Catherine McMahon and Maria Celeste Hayslette.
Sidney Coulling had very strong ties to Nature Camp through his son Philip Coulling, who is the Executive Director of Camp. Flip says “What I keep coming back to was how incredibly and unfailingly supportive of Nature Camp he and my mom always were. Nature Camp was not his “thing;” he was a man of books and letters who didn’t have a bent for learning plants and birds and rocks. But he was delighted that it was MY thing–and at least as delighted when his three granddaughters also fell in love with Nature Camp and had their own meaningful and life-changing experiences there. My parents graciously and generously opened their doors to Nature Campers on numerous occasions and provided a rock of support–financial and emotional– when the long-term future of Nature Camp seemed in doubt in 2006. I will forever be grateful to them for making Nature Camp possible for me and for helping to make it possible for generations of campers to come.”