A frustrated actor who held students in thrall

Nathan R. Carb Jr.
Nathan R. Carb Jr.
Posted: July 23, 2012

Dr. Nathan R. Carb Jr. was a memorable teacher, his students and colleagues said when he marked his 50th year of teaching at Rowan University in 2009.

"I teach, I try to entertain, and I hope you learn," Dr. Carb told a class the day an Inquirer reporter visited. "That gives me the impression I exist."

Taking notes, a student asked, "Dr. Carb, can you repeat that?"

"Very likely not," he said. "It's all spontaneous."

On Saturday, June 30, Dr. Carb, 79, chairman of the English department from 1983 to 2003 at what is now Rowan University, died of multiple systems atrophy at his home in Pitman.

On April 10, the English seminar room in Rowan's Bunce Hall had been renamed for Dr. Carb. Two days later, the first Nathan R. Carb Jr. Award was presented to David Costill of Pitman. The scholarship honors a junior or senior with a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher who plans graduate study in English or a related field, a Rowan spokeswoman said.

Dr. Carb became a full professor when he was 33, at the time the youngest in the New Jersey state college system.

He knew he needed to make an impression daily.

"Modesty is the road to ruin" in the classroom, he said. "You've got to believe they want to be there, and you've got something to teach them."

Born in Brooklyn, he graduated from Brooklyn Friends School in 1951, earned a bachelor's degree in English at the College of William and Mary in 1954, and a master's in 1956 and a doctorate in 1959, both in English at the University of Pennsylvania.

While working on his doctorate, he taught at West Virginia University in 1958-59 and began his career at what was then Glassboro State College in 1959, his wife, Andrea, said.

He retired from Rowan in 2011.

"I'm a frustrated actor. I can't learn lines," Dr. Carb told his 2009 interviewer. "But in the classroom, I get a memorable audience."

And so in that 2009 classroom, the 17 students in his Modern European literature class giggled as he voiced all the roles in an excerpt from Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano. "I acted in this" in a local production in 1973, he said. "I was terrible."

That didn't dim his inventiveness. For years, he stunned classes with an impression of Lavinia in Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus - after her arms and tongue have been cut off.

Titus is one of Shakespeare's less popular plays, perhaps as obscure as Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934), the British playwright about whom Dr. Carb wrote his doctoral dissertation.

"When we were younger," his wife said, "his mother had a home in Brooklyn and we used to go and stay there" every other weekend so he could take in all sorts of New York City theatrical productions.

In later years, he took New York City theater trips less frequently, she said, but no less enthusiastically.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Carb is survived by sons Robert and Stephen; daughter Lara Pointon; and six grandchildren. His first wife, Jacqueline, died in 1975.

A memorial gathering is being planned for a later date at Rowan University.

Contact Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.

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