Baylor Mourns Passing of Three Emeriti Professors

November 27, 2018

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WACO, Texas (Nov. 27, 2018) – Baylor University is mourning the recent passing of three Emeriti faculty members: Robert G. Collmer, Ph.D., 91, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English, who died Nov. 21; Alta N. Lane, Ph.D., 91, Professor Emerita of Family and Consumer Sciences, who died Nov. 22; and Rita S. Purdy, Ph.D., 77, former chair and Professor Emerita of Family and Consumer Sciences, who died Nov. 24.

A memorial service for Dr. Collmer will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, 1300 Columbus Ave. in Waco. Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home, 6101 Bosque Blvd. in Waco.

Services for Dr. Lane were held Monday, Nov. 26, at First Baptist Church of Adamsville, Tennessee.

A memorial service for Dr. Purdy will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Grace Gardens Funeral Home, 8220 Woodway Drive in Waco. A reception with the family will follow the service.

Dr. Robert Collmer

A graduate of Baylor (B.A. ’48, M.A. ’49) and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D. ’53), Dr. Collmer joined the Baylor English faculty in 1973, after serving as director of graduate studies and department chair at Texas Tech. Before his retirement from Baylor in 1997, he served six years as chair of the department of English and 13 years as dean of the Graduate School. After he retired, he spent a year teaching at the University of Jordan. He was a well-respected scholar in the literature of the 17th century, publishing books and articles on Donne and Bunyan.

Dr. Collmer was born in Guatemala in 1926, the son of Baptist missionaries, and raised in Zacapa, Guatemala; Philadelphia; and Laredo, Texas. He established many lifelong friendships in Guatemala and made frequent trips “home” over the next 70 years as he continued to work with and support the churches his parents established in central Guatemala. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, he returned to Baylor to complete his B.A. and M.A. degrees, studying under such luminaries as A.J. Armstrong, Charles G. Smith and Luther Weeks Courtney.

Kevin J. Gardner, Ph.D., chair and professor of English in the College of Arts & Sciences, said when he joined the Baylor faculty in 1995, Dr. Collmer was one of the first to make him feel welcome.

“I was, frankly, anxious and overwhelmed when I started out here, but Bob always put me at my ease,” Gardner said. “Because he retired only two years after I started at Baylor, I did not get to know him well, but I knew his legacy here was very important, and I made it a point to learn as much about him and his contributions as I could.”

Gardner said those legacies include:

  • Establishing the Christine Fall Teaching Award, given annually to the best graduate student instructor in English.
  • Hiring the first creative writing professors at Baylor and starting the program in creative writing.
  • Helping establish the House of Poetry, the Beall Poetry Festival and the Beall-Russell Lecture Series.
  • Playing an instrumental role in securing Carroll Science Hall as the home of the department of English.
  • Co-designing, with A.J. Armstrong, the bronze doors to Armstrong Browning Library.
  • Strengthening the hospital administration and physical therapy degree programs with the U.S. Army, while dean of the Graduate School.
  • Giving the generous lead gift that led to the creation of the Linnie B. Collmer Seminar Room and set up an endowment for its furnishing and, as of two years ago, its refurnishing.

Dr. Collmer also was an ordained minister, devoted Christian and student of the Bible. He was an active member of Columbus Avenue Baptist Church and taught a men’s Sunday School class for many years.

He was preceded in death by his first wife, Linnie, B.A. ’47, M.A., ’51, who passed away in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, Alys Edney Collmer; his daughter, Carol, B.A. ’77, and husband, Donald W. McLaren, of Pinon, Arizona; his son, Mark W. Collmer, B.A. ’78, of Houston; nephew, Reed A. Collmer, and wife, Linda Beck, of Sierra Vista, Arizona; and four grandchildren.

In recognition of Dr. Collmer’s numerous contributions, the Collmer family established an endowment fund to support the difficult and expensive work of graduate students in archival research. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that gifts in Dr. Collmer’s memory be made to The Robert G. Collmer Family Archival Research Endowed Fund.

Dr. Alta N. Lane

Born in Grand Bay, Alabama, Dr. Lane graduated from Eupora High School in Mississippi before heading to Memphis State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1970. She later earned her Master of Science degree and Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University. She also did post-doctoral work in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

Dr. Lane taught at Memphis State from 1971-1976 and the University of Northern Iowa from 1978-1980. In 1981, she joined the Baylor faculty in the department of family and consumer sciences, where she initiated and served as coordinator of the interior design program. Her special interest in her education was the study of architectural and furniture history. She retired in 1997, with the designation of Professor Emerita.

“Our interior design students and faculty are indebted to Dr. Alta Lane for her foundational work in establishing the ID program at Baylor,” said Rinn M. Cloud, Ph.D., chair and professor of family and consumer sciences in Baylor’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences. “Due to her hard work and dedication to this field, numerous students have graduated from our program and gone on to work in prominent architecture and design firms throughout the U.S. and abroad, allowing her legacy to extend well beyond this campus.”

Dr. Lane’s love for history and geography was the impetus for her extensive travels throughout the world, having traveled on five continents and some 25 countries. However, her greatest love was for her family. She was a devoted mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She is survived by two daughters, Sheila Kathryn Williams and husband, Shad, of Adamsville, Tennessee, and Belinda Michelle Hasenbeck and husband, Jim, of Edmond, Oklahoma; four grandchildren; six great grandchildren; a brother, Dewey Newman, of Ponte Vedra, Florida; and a host of nieces, nephews, extended family and friends.

Dr. Rita S. Purdy

Born in Richlands, Virginia, Dr. Purdy received her undergraduate degree in clothing and textiles from Virginia Tech, where she met her husband of 54 years. She then earned her master’s degree in clothing and textiles from University of Tennessee and returned to Virginia Tech to complete her Ph.D.

Dr. Purdy was a professor and served as dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Human
Resources at Virginia Tech, and then joined Baylor in 1996 as chair of family and consumer sciences. She continued as a professor, and upon her retirement in 2009, she was honored with the Professor Emerita designation.

Dr. Purdy loved to teach and excelled at her profession, earning numerous teaching excellence awards at both universities. She served as a model and inspiration to the thousands of students she advised and taught. In 1999, she also was named Texas leader of the year in Family and Consumer Sciences.

“I had the privilege of working with Rita Purdy at Virginia Tech in the 1990s and having our association renewed when I was recruited to Baylor in 2010,” Dr. Cloud said. “Dr. Purdy led the department of family and consumer sciences at Baylor with vision and grace during a time of transition for the University during the late 1990s and early 2000s, providing a strong voice for the program and its faculty. Through her career, her personal life and her Christian commitment, she embodied the mission and vision of our discipline to improve the quality of life of individuals, families and communities. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Jim, and their children.”

She was an active member of Seventh and James Baptist Church, belonged to the Baylor Senior Adult Choir and worked with various other charities and civic organizations.

She is survived by her husband, Jim; sons, Jay, of Blacksburg, Virginia; David, daughter-in-law, Kristi, and two grandsons, Joshua and Daniel, of Centreville, Virginia; and Jonathan of Charlotte, North Carolina. She forever will be remembered by the numerous students she taught over her career, her colleagues and friends.

Memorial contributions in Dr. Purdy’s memory may be made to the Sutherland-Purdy Endowed Scholarship at the Virginia Tech Foundation in Blacksburg, Virginia.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.