Bob Griffith–An Exceptionally Caring and Interested Individual in His Students

I first met Bob in Michael Kazin’s office in the History Department’s old facilities in AU’s McCabe Hall. Bob had just joined the department’s faculty and was sharing an office with Michael due to a lack of space. Right away, I recognized that Bob had a genuine warmth and was very interested in the department’s students. On our first meeting, he proceeded to enthusiastically inquire about my work, and about me and my outside interests; there wasn’t a lot of open space in the conversation for me to ask him about himself because he keep asking me question after question. It was obvious that he cared not only about your scholarship, but also about you as a person. Much to my chagrin, it wasn’t until a day or two later that I realized that “Bob” Griffith was “Robert” Griffith, the guy who had written “The Politics of Fear,” Ahem!

When you went to visit Bob in his office, you always had his full attention; he had a way of making you feel that you were the most important person at that moment. He always seemed to give me the right kind of pep talk when I needed it, and he also knew when to prod me, although it was usually in a gentle manner. His special sense of humor also came out during our conversations and it made me smile and laugh. In one instance, when I hadn’t been in to see him for a while, just out of the blue he sent me an email saying something like, “David—I was reading X’s book the other day and he cited your article—congratulations.” It was a small note, but something that I found really motivating and that has stuck with me.

I often felt that Bob and I shared a small, but special connection because of a few interesting coincidences regarding some of the places we’d both been in our lives. He had taught at the University of Georgia and I had received my MA there. He had long since left the faculty before I got there, but it was still an interesting coincidence. At another point, when we were having a conversation in his office, he asked me how my wife Heidi was doing. When I told him that she was really enjoying her new job at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, he got a smile on his face and said, “You know I was one of the people who planned and designed that place from the very beginning.” After that time, whenever I saw him, he would always make a point of asking me how Heidi was doing over at Maryland. It was sort of special to know that Bob and I had walked the same halls, albeit at different times, in such different places.

As a member of my dissertation committee, Bob always had very insightful and helpful comments. I could always tell that he had thoroughly read any chapter I had given him. I remember once, much to his embarrassment, he very sheepishly handed me one of my chapters back with coffee stains on it. He was very apologetic and simply explained, “Sorry my thermos opened up on it. I hope you can read around the stains.” I still have that copy of the chapter at home. Notably, I was pondering one of his comments on it the other day, and it helped me rework several paragraphs, as well as the title of the chapter.

I had hoped that Bob was going to be able to see me finish my dissertation, especially since I’ll be defending it very soon. Although he’s gone in one sense, I know he’ll be there helping me finish it in other ways.

Thank You Bob, for everything!

David Onkst


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