Victor Batzel, 1935-2009

I learned last week that Victor Batzel, one of my history professors at the University of Winnipeg, died last year. It was only a one-line notice in the University’s alumni magazine, so I did a little investigating.

Dr. Batzel died of pulmonary fibrosis on January 1, 2009 at the age of 73; he was a smoker when I knew him. He taught me philosophy of history, a required course for honours history students, in the spring of 1992, when he was wrapping up his term as department chair. Having Vic Baztel as your teacher was fun. Voluble, personable, ebullient, and most of all alive, he was a teacher first and foremost, and a damn good one, in a department full of damn good teachers. “His lecture style was highly kinetic. We joked that if you cut off his arms he wouldn’t be able to say a thing,” says the knowing obituary, which details his volunteer life as much as, if not more than, his academic accomplishments, and nails his larger-than-life personality. (See also the University’s press release.)

Not only that, you knew he gave a shit about you. It was a point he made clear in a conversation we had outside on the campus grounds, where he, chatting with someone else, pointed at me and said, “he’s our graduate program” — making the point that, at the University of Winnipeg, almost entirely an undergraduate institution, majors and honours students got the attention that only graduate students would get elsewhere. If anything, he was understating things: nowhere else did I get the faculty attention and support I got during my undergrad years from the U of W’s history professors, even when I was a Ph.D. student. Professors like Batzel — and Bailey, and Stone, and Young, all now retired — did that for us.