Stanford, William Bedell (1910–84), classical scholar and senator, was born 6 January 1910 in Belfast, third child and only son (among four daughters) of the Rev. Bedell Stanford, rector of Dundrum, Co. Down, and Susan Stanford (née Jackson). Since the Rev. Stanford declined to sign the Solemn League and Covenant in September 1912, he judged it prudent to transfer his family to the southern part of the country, and took up a living in Dundrum, Co. Tipperary, where young William went to infant school. Some years later, his father moved to Waterford, where he became rector of Christ Church. William continued his education in Bishop Foy's School, Waterford, and at TCD, where he graduated with a double first in classics and ancient history (1932). Elected to a fellowship in classics in Trinity in 1934, he made his name as an authority on Greek poetry with a series of books, Greek metaphor (1936), Ambiguity in Greek literature (1939), and Aeschylus in his style (1942). As a group, these works display a pattern of interest in poetic style and euphony which was to predominate also in much of his later work.
Stanford was the most distinguished Irish classical scholar of his generation. He was appointed regius professor of Greek in Trinity in 1940, a post that he held for forty years till his retirement in 1980. His long tenure of the chair (which involved the administration of the school of classics) was remarkable for its productivity – he published eight books and over seventy articles in this period – and also for its inspiring influence on his students, many of whom won university appointments in three continents, not only in classics, but in theology, philosophy, and English. Three of his editions of Greek texts, Homer's Odyssey, Sophocles' Ajax, and Aristophanes' Frogs, remained standards in the field long after his death. Apart from these, he produced The Ulysses theme (1954), a study of treatments of the character of Odysseus/Ulysses from Homer down to James Joyce (qv); a fine biography (with R. B. McDowell), of the distinguished classical scholar and former provost of Trinity, J. P. Mahaffy (qv), Mahaffy: a biography of an Anglo-Irishman (1971); and the pioneering Ireland and the classical tradition (1976), in which he surveys the Irish contribution to classical scholarship from Celtic times to his own day. In 1966 his distinction was recognised by an invitation to deliver the Sather lectures at the University of California at Berkeley, for which he returned as a theme to his first love, the aural qualities of Greek poetry. The resulting book, The sound of Greek (1967), became the only volume of the Sather series with a record attached.
Stanford also figured prominently in the public life of the country, as one of TCD's three elected representatives in Seanad Éireann from 1948 to 1969. He spoke effectively on a wide range of issues during this period, assuming the mantle of defender (though in a benign and non-adversative mode) of the Anglo-Irish protestant tradition upheld in the previous generation by W. B. Yeats (qv); represented Ireland in parliamentary conferences in Vienna (1956) and Warsaw (1959); and was chairman (1973–80) of the council of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. He was also active in promoting mutual understanding and good relations between Greece and Ireland, in recognition of which the Greek government in 1980 honoured him by making him a Higher Commander of the Order of the Phoenix, a distinction he cherished. In 1984, not long before his death, he received an honorary doctorate from QUB. His most valued honour, however, was his appointment in 1981 as chancellor of the University of Dublin. He was still performing the duties incidental to this office only days before his death on 30 December 1984, in his home in Dalkey, Co. Dublin.
He married (1935) Dorothy Isobel Wright; they had four children, Danaë, Philip, Melissa, and William. A fine portrait of Stanford, in chancellor's robes, hangs on the stairs to the common room in the College, and his bust in bronze graces the classics section of the Berkeley Library.