Thomas F. Staley, dogged pursuer of literary records, dies at 86

Shortly after being hired to run the Ransom Center, Dr. Staley learned that the records of Joyce’s translator and friend Stuart Gilbert were available. According to The New Yorker, the diaries, which cost the Ransom Center $265,000, came with an unexpected discovery: Joyce’s handwritten edits of the first chapter of “Finnegans Wake.” Dr. Staley estimated that these pages alone were worth $750,000.

Over the next 25 years, he acquired the papers of dozens of literary luminaries, including Doris Lessing, Jorge Luis Borges, JM Coetzee, Penelope Lively and Isaac Bashevis Singer, as well as the archives of Robert De Niro and the photojournalist of the Life magazine David Douglas Duncan. Dr. Staley also continued to teach English.

When Dr. Staley visited playwright Tom Stoppard at his home in England, he found his papers scattered around his office and another building on his property. As Dr. Staley recalled to The Times, Mr. Stoppard told him, “What you want is mostly stuff that I would throw away: notes on this and that. But there were also drafts of his plays, notes on revisions, and set drawings.

On another trip, to Arthur Miller’s house in Connecticut, Dr. Staley learned that in a box that Miller thought had been filled with roofing nails, he had discovered valuable notebooks and a short story – the very type of articles that help fill an archive. Although parts of Miller’s archives have been at the Ransom Center for decades, a formal deal to acquire the collection, for $2.7 million, was not reached until 2017.

In addition to his son Tim, Dr. Staley is survived by his wife, Carolyn (O’Brien) Staley, known as Muffi; his daughters, Carrie Staley and Mary Wheeler; another son, Tom Jr.; and six grandchildren.

Dr. Staley’s aggressive and successful pursuit of so many articles by literary stars suggested to him that he had guided the Ransom Center to victories in a state that likes to think big.

“People are especially proud of the winners here,” he told The New Yorker. “They to like Success.”

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