Remembering Dr. Edwin Hoffman Rhyne, 87, W&M prof an ‘eclectic mix of down-home and intellectual’

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Dr. Edwin Hoffman Rhyne
Dr. Edwin Hoffman Rhyne

Dr. Edwin Hoffman Rhyne was known to be strict with his students at the College of William & Mary.

He taught sociology for 45 years – the longest-serving faculty member in the history of the college at the time of his retirement – and his courses were rigorous, but he also offered his guidance.

At the end of each year, he evaluated his position and asked himself, “Do I still feel like I have something to give?”

For more than half of his life, he felt he did.

Dr. Rhyne, of Williamsburg, died July 10, 2015, at the age of 87.

Dr. Rhyne earned a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina. In 1954, he joined the staff of William & Mary where he taught until his retirement in 1999.

When Dr. Rhyne first started teaching at William & Mary, the courses were very flexible and he was allowed to explore many areas of sociology, said his daughter, Megan Rhyne. He analyzed environmental, revolutionary and political sociology, and taught everything from the basics to higher-level specifics.

He was a lively reader as well, always looking to make connections between the new areas he researched and previously analyzed sociological fields of study, and “William and Mary was the perfect place for him to do that,” Ms. Rhyne said.

In the classroom, Ms. Rhyne said her dad was blunt with his students and let them know when they needed to “step it up.” She referenced one student’s comparison between the Holocaust and endangered animals, a case in which Dr. Rhyne used “choice words” to tell his student he went too far. He was brutally truthful, but if they needed help “he’d go to bat for them” and ensure they understood the material he taught.

Dr. Rhyne brought his strict-but-helpful approach home, his daughter said, and it was the perfect balance for her.

“I [could] always count on him for an honest answer,” Ms. Rhyne said. “and if I needed him, he was there.”

It wasn’t just family and students who could count on Dr. Rhyne, though.

In the 1960s, he was active with the Civil Rights Movement, his daughter said. He wanted to help give the young generation of black children in the community a chance for early education, so he helped set up a day care center at the historic Williamsburg First Baptist Church.

Dr. Rhyne was also a recovering alcoholic for 33 years, said his daughter, and long after he had made it through the program, Dr. Rhyne continued to faithfully attend AA meetings every single week. He wanted to help others the same way he had been helped.

“He would even interrupt family dinners to go to a meeting,” Ms. Rhyne said.

On his way out the door, Ms. Rhyne said he’d grab one of his many “trucker hats,” which became a point of interest to his fellow AA members. They looked forward to seeing what kind of hat Dr. Rhyne would be wearing, and he had many to chose from.

Many years ago while traveling through the little towns of the Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina mountains he enjoyed visiting, Dr. Rhyne would stop to chat with farmers about their crops. He’d leave with a wide-brimmed hat displaying the name of a company, usually one that sold tractors. His daughter believes the number of hats exceeds 100.

She said her dad “loved classical music and Faulkner and had a Ph.D,” but he also had his hats, charted the weather and liked to discuss freight trains.

“He was an eclectic mix of down-home and intellectual,” Ms. Rhyne said.

Dr. Rhyne was born in Hickory, North Carolina in 1928 and was raised in Clemson, South Carolina. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Laura Gem Holmes, of Adel, Georgia, who died in 1991.

He is survived by his wife of 16 years, Gwynn Prideaux; sisters, Dorothy Blyth and Emma Lee Patterson; daughters, Elisabeth, Rebecca and Megan Rhyne; sons-in-law, Jim Coates and Mike Parker; grandchildren, Daniel, Eleanor and Gordon Coates and Dellinger Parker; great-grandson, Simon Coates; and stepsons, Jeff and Paul Prideaux and their families.

A reception will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, July 18, 2015, at Bucktrout Funeral Home. A memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 19, 2015, at William & Mary’s Wren Chapel.

The family thanks the staff of WindsorMeade of Williamsburg for the kind and competent care they gave Dr. Rhyne during his illness.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that any expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, P.O. Box 2576, Williamsburg VA 23187.

Please leave online condolences for the family at Bucktrout Funeral Home.

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Amanda Thames is the obituary writer for WYDaily. Reach her at ​757-565-1079 ext. 222 or obits@wydaily.com