Communication graduate, drama educator dies at 92

Paulina Firozi

Anne Thurman, a professor emeritus in the School of Communication and a Northwestern alumna, died April 22, in Evanston, three weeks before her 93rd birthday. Friends and family remember her as an inspiration in the world of drama whose passion shined through her teaching.

Thurman worked at NU from 1971 to 1985, having previously worked at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., and other Evanston public high schools, according to University archives.

Colleagues say she played an active role in the theater programs both at NU and around Evanston, truly believing in students’ artistic work on stage.

“She believed in the power of drama as a springboard for discovery,” said Rives Collins, who took Thurman’s place as an associate professor in the theater department in 1986 in what was then called the School of Speech. He said while it was terrifying trying to fill Thurman’s shoes, he received a great deal of support.

“I thought, ‘No one will ever take Anne Thurman’s place,'” he said. “She was gracious and kind and gave me all of her papers and resources. I inherited a very healthy program, and I inherited it from someone who was universally respected and loved.”

Thurman’s son, Bruce Thurman, said his mother was very attached to the University, having attended NU for her undergraduate and Masters education before returning initially as a part-time lecturer in 1968.

“She was totally in love with theater and totally in love with teaching,” he said. “There are a lot of good artists who are so-so teachers, but she was a great teacher because she put students first. She was particularly inspirational.”

Bruce Thurman said although he grew up as an only child, he felt as though he had a large family because of all of the students and people who were always at their home. Collins said Anne Thurman was known for her hospitality, always offering her home to visiting artists and scholars or students who needed somewhere to stay. Collins remembers when he and his wife stayed at her home when he first began working at NU and was looking for somewhere to live.

Collins said he was inspired by the impact Anne Thurman had on all of her students, and said she continued to attend performances and classes even after her retirement. He said the University would miss her vision and her high standards, recalling a recent visit she made to a theater workshop.

“Nobody knew how to manage a classroom quite like she did,” he said. “She didn’t hesitate to speak out and say, ‘Folks, I think we can do better.'” Bruce Thurman said teaching was a fundamental part of his mother’s life.

“She was somebody who believed very much in the profession of teaching and the profession of education, ” he said. “This was not a job. This was a true identity.”

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