Though an eminent and decorated scholar, Rufus thought of teaching as his vocation, and he will be lovingly remembered by the thousands of students he impacted in his career. He brought unique charisma, profound erudition and tireless dedication to teaching. He was famous for his eloquent and colorful performances in the classroom, acting out famous battle scenes and surprising students with his iconic battle stick. His dramatic gifts were coupled with a deep sense of the human element in past times, and it was his ability to translate the facts of history into meaningful life lessons — about leadership, about freedom, about great ideas — which made such a lasting impression on so many students.
At OU, his classes attained the status of a rite of passage. His legendary two-course sequence “Freedom in Greece” and “Freedom in Rome” filled more than 300 seats every semester, with students sitting in aisles and crowding outside his office door seeking permission to enroll. His talent and dedication earned him an extraordinary list of teaching awards (which he pointedly listed at the top of his résume). He was Professor of the Year three times at OU, in addition to numerous other accolades and honors. Over the years, he remained a close, life-long mentor to many of his former students, and he found in these relationships one of the most enriching and rewarding aspects of his life as a teacher. His mission as a teacher extended beyond his undergraduate students. He had a special commitment to OU’s lifelong learning program and led countless book clubs for seniors.
Rufus was an avid traveler, and his study trips were a profound, immersive experience for all those who journeyed with him. In 2007, he was honored to be named the David R. and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a role which allowed him to share his understanding of freedom on a broader scale. Over the last decade, Rufus produced a series of books on tape, mastering this medium and reaching a national and international audience as a teacher. He gave himself to his calling as a teacher, and he was truly one of the great teachers of his age.