Dr. Willis E. McNelly
December 16, 1920 - April 7, 2003
82 Years old
Dr. Willis E. McNelly, Professor Emeritus in English Literature at California State
University Fullerton passed away in his sleep at 12:45 am on April 7 after a courageous battle
with Mesothelomia at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton.
Willis is survived by his sister Maureen Haggard, his wife, Genevieve, and five children,
Peter McNelly of Toronto, Ontario, Patrick McNelly of Fullerton, California, Margaret
Schimmels of Olathe, Kansas, James McNelly of St. Cloud, Minnesota and Jean Bowers of
Kalamazoo, Michigan. Willis is the beloved grandfather of nine grandchildren.
Dr. McNelly received his B.A., from Central YMCA College, his M.A., Loyola University,
Chicago, and his Ph.D., from Northwestern University in 1957. He was an internationally
recognized scholar and authority on the writings of James Joyce, William Butler Yeats,
Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and T.S. Elliott. He was best known, however, for his
pioneering efforts to win acceptance of science fiction as a serious form of modern
His close relationships with Frank Herbert, author of the
series of Dune novels, and other authors such as Ray Bradbury,
Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, James Blish, Robert Heinlein and others led to
the creation of the Science Fiction Section of the Special Collections Library at California
State University, Fullerton. The collection is built upon the donation of many of his own and
his father, Willis McNelly Sr.'s, collection of rare science fiction books along with original
drafts and priceless additions from his author friends and colleagues Editor of the successful
and highly sought-after Dune Encyclopedia.
Dr. McNelly also wrote, edited or helped compile numerous essays and works of science
fiction such as Science Fiction Novellas, Mars We Love You, Above the Human Landscape, An
Anthology of Social Science Fiction, "Science Fiction; The Academic Awakening",
"Science Fiction in the Wake of James Joyce", "Relativity in Middle High
Martian", and the touching eulogy for his close friend, Frank Herbert, who preceded him
in death in 1986. A speaker at many science fiction conferences and writer of countless book
introductions, Dr. McNelly is widely credited as the person responsible for bringing works of
speculative fiction as he called it, into academic recognition in the classroom.
Perhaps his greatest legacy, however, is the recognition of his peers as an outstanding
teacher and professor, winning the prestigious California University and College System
Teacher of the Year award after being selected the Cal State Fullerton Teacher of the Year in
1976. A dynamic and challenging instructor, Dr. McNelly influenced and inspired thousands of
students over the decades into an awareness of the importance of the humanities in personal
and cultural development and an appreciation of the written word.
His patriotism and love of America is reflected in the recognition on his memorial of his
years of service defending our country, a veteran of the Korean and Second World War.
In lieu of flowers, friends may wish to donate to the Fullerton Public Library Foundation,
353 W. Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832.