The bicyclist killed Sunday was an award-winning English and linguistics professor at LSU who is being described as an “international treasure” and scholar.
Elisabeth Oliver, 63, was killed Sunday after she was struck by a pickup truck while walking her broken bicycle on a rural highway in East Feliciana Parish, State Police said.
“She was a keystone member of our department,” said LSU English professor Jesse Gellrich, “a vital and visible person in medieval studies in the United States and Europe who was just graced with the most distinguished scholarly academic award given by the LSU general academic community — distinguished research master.”
Known by many as “Lisi,” Oliver was an expert in comparative law, medieval languages and linguistics, and opera libretti, according to LSU’s website. A Smith College and Harvard University graduate, Oliver joined LSU’s faculty in 1996.
“This was an international scholar who knew more about English law than probably anyone else in the world,” said LSU English Department chairwoman Elsie Michie.
Oliver — who could read or speak more than 16 languages — was “an international treasure” and “the keeper of some of the most valuable learning that the field possesses,” Michie said.
So keen was Oliver’s interest in language that she sat in on her friend Jennifer Moses’ “baby Hebrew” class for 7- and 8-year-olds at a Baton Rouge synagogue.
“She was the class clown,” Moses said.
Oliver was a lovable eccentric with a thrift-store fashion sense who “didn’t seem to pay attention to all the social niceties,” said Moses, approvingly.
Having moved from Boston, Oliver “didn’t look like a proper Southern lady. Well, damn if she wasn’t. She was a tomboy Yankee! And that’s what she was, period,” Moses said.
Standing across the street from Oliver’s house Monday afternoon in Baton Rouge, Gellrich and LSU doctoral candidate Joseph Wingenbach remembered Oliver as a beloved colleague, musician and avid cyclist. She’d been preparing for an annual bicycle trip in France, Gellrich said.
“You will find a lot of students who call her their adoptive mother,” said Wingenbach, who said Oliver was his dissertation adviser.
Oliver was also “nominated for more ‘favorite teacher’ awards than anyone else probably in the university,” said Michie. “The rest of us would get, sort of, ‘also ran.’ ”
Oliver had many interests, including playing the ukulele and singing for patients at Our Lady of the Lake, attending LSU Lady Tigers basketball games, playing golf and raising two dogs, friend and retired LSU professor Anna Nardo said.
“We all feel that the air has gone out of our sails,” Nardo said.
Oliver studied theater and speech at Smith College, and earned her master’s and doctorate degrees from Harvard University in linguistics. She authored two books, one on the laws of Kent from 600-700 A.D., and the second on personal injury laws in Europe from 450-900 A.D.
According to a statement from LSU’s University Relations Office, Oliver was one of two Americans and the only woman serving on the literary board of the Early English Laws Project, an international endeavor to create new editions of Anglo-Saxon laws.
State Police are continuing to investigate the crash that killed Oliver and haven’t yet decided whether charges will be filed, said Trooper 1st Class Bryan Lee, a State Police spokesman.
One of the issues State Police are focusing on is the lack of sidewalks where Oliver was walking on La. 952 about a mile north of La. 10, Lee said.
Where there’s no sidewalk, pedestrians are to walk against traffic as far to the left as possible, he said.
Oliver had been walking with traffic in the southbound lane of La. 952 about noon Sunday when a pickup truck driven by 79-year-old Jessie Banguel, of Clinton, came out of a right-hand curve behind her, according to a news release.
“When you become a pedestrian, once you get off the bike, you’re supposed to swap over. Now, the time frame in which that happened, that’s still in question,” Lee said.
Another female cyclist was with Oliver at the time of the incident, Lee said.
State Police took a toxicology sample from Oliver and gave Banguel a chemical breath test, which was negative, and do not suspect impairment in either person, according to a news release.
A memorial service is being planned in conjunction with a member of Oliver’s family who is traveling to Baton Rouge from out of state, Michie said.
“It’s such a loss for the whole community. She was this weird combination of super funny in a kind of dry, outrageous way, and super smart,” Michie said. “I don’t think I ever saw her and didn’t laugh.”