I found out this afternoon that my friend and colleague Gale Stokes died suddenly last Sunday. I first knew him when I was a graduate student in the History Department and he was Rice’s professor of Eastern European history. He seemed harsh to my younger self and I was frankly a bit afraid of him. I marvel at this memory now, because I was so very wrong. Rather than harsh he was simply truthful, a rare and valuable thing that I came to appreciate deeply as time passed. He was a stalwart citizen of the university, serving on innumerable committees and doing stints as department chair and dean. He cared about Rice’s history and was a good friend to the archives, donating his academic and professional papers to the Woodson about a year or so ago. More than that, he was generous with his time and characteristically forthright about how he had seen the university evolve since his arrival in 1968.
What else? He liked to have a bowl of ice cream after lunch at Cohen House, he loved the arts, and he wrote clear prose. Here’s a small piece of his writing from a 1974 recruiting brochure for prospective students:
“Art. Science. Love. What is the proper mixture? Well, we don’t know either. Each person devises his own answer. What we do is help people confront the variety and mystery of knowledge so that the answers they arrive at will be a reflection of their own best selves, not a reflection of transient and outside pressures. No, we’re not a religious institution. We just take the business of knowledge seriously, because in the deepest sense, only those things which are taken seriously are really fun.”
Gale Stokes, RIP.