Where to begin? I have known Bob since I was born. He was one of my father’s first history students at Depauw University; my father “converted” Bob to history, just as Bob later converted many students of his own. As Bob grew up and into his professional life, married wonderful Barb, who, like him, had known my parents at Depauw, he and my father became fast friends and later lived close to each other as they built their respective History Departments in New England. I grew up knowing “Mr. and Mrs. Griffith” as twinkly-eyed, gentle, full-of-laughter, kind people who we always enjoyed visiting as kids.
Imagine my surprise when I was offered a job at A.U. in 1994, only to find that Bob was starting as Provost! In true Griffith form, he invited me to lunch during his first month as Provost and regaled me with his excitement at A.U.’s unique qualities, its potential for growth and transformation. When he wisely stepped out of the university’s top administration and returned to teaching, after many years away from the classroom, he bravely threw himself into rediscovering the pains and joys of pedagogy and relationships with students. We talked frequently about his career dreams, his struggles and new passions in teaching, the joy of his grandchildren’s births, he and Barb embarking on new phases of their professional and personal lives, etc. True to Bob’s spirit, he threw himself into the muck of daily life and found beauty there, as it became clear that he would not be “captain of the ship” at an institution of higher learning, as he had planned one day to be.He managed to negotiate quite well my own sudden (In his eyes) transformation from my father’s child to valued colleague. I became a mother as he became a grandfather, dedicated in a daily way to his granddaughters who lived close by; we shared the madness and ecstasies of being so overwhelmed by new lives in the world. Two very strong-willed, opinionated, passionate people, he and I were often allies, seemingly just as often disagreed–quite fervently, and always loved each other deeply through the years as colleagues and friends.
Bob eventually returned to administration, by reshaping our undergraduates’ experience, ramping up graduate recruitment, and ultimately becoming our department chair. His “ship” was no longer an entire university, as he had once dreamed, but he made sure that we in the department remained afloat, through some very trying times. Bob deeply believed that social change could be effected through the creation and transformation of social structures; as a result, administrative labors were, for Bob, crucial intellectual endeavors and a key method of advancing justice and equity. Envisioning solutions to mind-breaking adminstrative problems were, for Bob, creative processes. In recent years, Bob helped create the Clendenen professorship, community service, and graduate fellowship package within the History Department, spearheaded efforts to create an A.U. center for Public Humanities, and helped to reshape the library and curricular programs on the University level. His creativity as an administrator and a scholar, his commitment to building intellectual and professional community at A.U., and his caring humanity as an individual will be sorely missed. The world has lost a shining light with his passing.
I cannot express what his loss means to me. He was there for my parents when my own brother died many years ago from cancer; now he has been taken from us through the same route. I can only hope that all of us who have been touched by his spirit carry on the best in Bob–a deep and abiding desire to build community, a commitment to social justice, careful caring for individuals as well as institutions, and a fervent capacity for self-sacrifice for the common good. My heart goes out Barb, Bob’s sons, and his grandchildren. Bob lives on in each of us; we must live his witness as best we can, in our own way, with our own gifts. Let us do it together.
Professor of History