Stephen M. Ross, grant administrator, dies at 69

August 29, 2013

Stephen M. Ross, a William Faulkner scholar who directed the office of challenge grants at the National Endowment for the Humanities for more than 15 years, died Aug. 21 at a hospital in Philadelphia. He was 69.

The cause was a stroke, said his wife, Carol Kolmerten. Dr. Ross and his wife were returning to their home in the Baltimore area after a vacation in Italy when their flight was diverted to Philadelphia because of his medical emergency.

Dr. Ross was an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis before joining the NEH in 1987 as deputy director of fellowships. He headed the office of challenge grants from 1995 until retiring in January. The NEH credited him with helping raise nearly $4 billion for the humanities.

Dr. Ross wrote or contributed to books about Faulkner, the novelist and Nobel laureate. He and the late Noel Polk of the University of Southern Mississippi oversaw the 2012 publication of a version of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” that was color-coded to help readers navigate the novel’s stream-of-consciousness narration and its shifting chronology.

The Folio Society in London sold out its limited printing of 1,480 copies of the book, which retailed for $345. Faulkner had imagined the possibility of colored ink to make the book clearer to readers, but the technology was not available when “The Sound and the Fury” was first printed in 1929.

Dr. Ross said he knew the colorized version risked frustrating some Faulkner enthusiasts who enjoyed the challenge of deciphering the story.

“Faulkner cared a great deal about his readers, and this is why he wanted the different colored inks, so the reader would be better able to follow,” Dr. Ross told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But he was also willing to risk readers not understanding the book easily.”

Stephen Moodey Ross was born in Meadville, Pa., where he was a 1965 graduate of Allegheny College. He was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society at Allegheny, where his father was dean of the faculty.

He received a doctorate in English from Stanford University in 1972 and was a 1982 graduate of the University of Maryland law school. He never practiced law but used his legal background during contract negotiations with unions at the NEH.

He was a resident of Catonsville, Md.

His first marriage, to Sharon Detrick, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 37 years, Carol Kolmerten of Catonsville; two children from his first marriage, Derica Ross Waller of Littleton, Colo., and Aidan D. Ross of Portland, Ore.; a stepdaughter, Laura McAfee of Catonsville; a brother; and four grandchildren.

— Adam Bernstein