Bob Griffith, An Appreciation

Although two days have passed since news of Bob’s death reached me, I feel that I am still in shock and am having difficulty coming to terms with the loss of a dear colleague.  Having learned of his terminal illness only the evening before he died, there has not been much time to cope with this sad news.

I knew Bob for only a short time compared to most of you and I knew him in a relatively limited context, that of fellow department chair and colleague at large.  Yet he was important to me in ways that I would now like to share.

My acquaintance with Bob began in June 2007 during my first or second visit to the AU campus.  My wife, Susan, and I, had come to AU for two-stage interviews for the vacant position as Chair of the Department of Sociology.  As not all sociology colleagues were available for the first interview, Dean Kay Mussell arranged a second visit a few days later with other departmental colleagues and a few department chairs, one of whom was Bob.  The interviews with departmental colleagues were understandably of the utmost importance.  However, given the press of time in making the decision to consider an offer (on both sides), the meeting with other chairs was also crucial.  Bob struck Susan and me as not only affable but engaging, as only a strong scholar deeply committed to university life can be.  He put us completely at ease while carrying on a serious discussion about the College and the role of department chairs.  It was clear that his was a voice of experience and mature judgment.  Without sugarcoating problems, he had a way of talking about AU and the CAS that made you want to be a part of this university.  His contribution to that conversation was an important factor in our decision to accept offers to come to AU and to look forward with great anticipation to joining a faculty of which Bob was a distinguished member and leader.

And so we became colleagues as chairs of our respective departments.  In all the venues in which we encountered each other, such as meetings of department chairs, I felt his presence and participation in such meetings to be always constructive and responsible where problems and challenges called for visionary solutions.  At the same time his interventions often betrayed a sense of humor along with modesty or even self-deprecation.  He was always one to whom others looked for synthesizing disparate views to find a path through thorny issues.

When the sociology faculty decided in 2008 to embark on a serious project of departmental planning, it was to Bob that I turned for advice.  I knew that Bob could transcend the conventional jaundiced view of such exercises and could see the practical, even strategic, uses of planning as long as it was initiated, designed, and carried out under departmental auspices rather than being imposed from “on high.”  He was generous in sharing his experience as well as specific documents generated in past planning exercises in his department.

What my experience with Bob amounted to was colleagueship in its best sense.  And beyond that, to use a word that is in danger of becoming clichéd and trite, he was my mentor – whether he knew it or not.  He made a large and positive contribution to my experience as a faculty member and department chair at AU.  I know that my sense of loss is shared with the very many colleagues who have been privileged to work alongside him.

These are among the thoughts that came to mind when I heard on Monday evening that he was seriously and, likely, terminally ill.  I decided at that moment to write to him the next day to convey my appreciation.  Alas, he was gone in less than twenty-four hours.  And so, having failed to express these thoughts directly to him, I now wish to share them with you.

John Drysdale
Professor of Sociology
American University


1 Comment

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One response to “Bob Griffith, An Appreciation

  1. Brenna

    Professor Griffith was always there with a wink, and a plan. A plan to not let you be a lazy under-achieving idiot, and a plan to help you love what you were doing. It’s so sad to think that no more students will benefit from his passion, kindness, and challenges. He was a great teacher and will be missed.

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