McCoy, Ralph Edward

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Ralph Edward McCoy, 1000 Litton Lane, Blacksburg, Va., was born October 1, 1915 in St. Louis, Mo., the son of Melvin Walter McCoy and Luella Pearl (Geitz) McCoy.

He grew up in Springfield, Ill. where his father was in the printing business. In 1940 he married Melba McKibben of Wellsville, Mo. They had two sons, Robert Allan McCoy and David Lawrence McCoy. He received an undergraduate degree from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1937, a library degree in 1939 and a Ph.D. degree in 1956 both from the University of Illinois. From 1939-43 he was on the staff of the Illinois State Library and was involved in early planning of regional public libraries in the state.

Before leaving for the army in World War II he was Illinois chairman of the Victory Book Campaign which gathered more than a million books state-wide for military libraries in the United States and abroad. He served in the U.S. Army (private to captain) from 1943-46, concluding his military service on the faculty of the Quartermaster School, Camp Lee, Va., where he was part of a team that developed procedures for repatriating the war dead.

For seven years following the war he was on the faculty of the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relation at the University of Illinois, and from 1955 until his retirement in 1976 he was dean of libraries and professor of journalism, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Ill. In this capacity, he devoted considerable attention to the building a nationally recognized book and manuscript collection in the Irish renaissance, the modern theater, modern philosophy, and freedom of the press, making numerous trips to England and Ireland to acquire books and manuscripts.

He is perhaps best known for his three-volume bibliography on freedom of the press published by Southern Illinois University Press and for his extensive personal library on press freedom in the English speaking world, works dating back to the 16th century, The McCoy Freedom of the Press Library is now in the Special Collections Division, Morris Library, Southern Illinois University. He was the author or editor of five additional books, and was associated with the publication of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant from its inception in 1968. From 1973-77 he was on the Advisory Board of the Illinois State Archives.

Following his retirement in 1976, he served as interim director of libraries at the University of Georgia (one year), Rutgers University (one year), interim director of the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, D.C. (two years). During his career he was a consultant to some 12 college and research libraries. In 1960 he was president of the Illinois Library Association, in 1966 president of the Association of College and Research Libraries. He was the first chairman of the Library Advisory Council to the Government Printer in Washington.

For his work on freedom of the press he received awards from the American Library Association, the University of Illinois, and American Association of Law Libraries. In 1979 Southern Illinois University presented him with the Distinguished Service Award and 1998 an honorary degree of doctor of letters. In 1988 Lincoln College awarded him an honorary doctorate of humane letters. In 1995, he and his wife, Melba, moved to a cottage in the Warm Hearth Retirement Village in Blacksburg. They later moved to the Showalter Center.

After Melba died in 2005, he lived his final year in the Willows section of the Kroontje Center. He is survived by his son, Robert and wife, Carolyn, of Blacksburg; a son, David of Pomona, Ill., a grandson, Charles McCoy of San Diego; a granddaughter, Bonnie McCoy of Christiansburg; and a sister, Helen Shull of Wilmington, N.C. Robert McCoy is professor of mathematics emeritus at Virginia Tech.

Interment of the cremains will take place in the Roselawn Memorial Park in Springfield, Illinois at a later date. Arrangements by McCoy Funeral Home Blacksburg.