Every once in a while I run across something that I have to lay aside for a while before I can talk about it. I’ve had this photograph of history professor Francis Loewenheim for six months but it seems so poignant to me that even now I’m not sure what to say:
There’s a tremendous amount of testimony from students that Loewenheim, a scholar of modern German and diplomatic history who taught here from 1959 to 1996, was a powerful, even great, teacher. Here are the kinds of words they use: inspiring, daunting, brilliant, witty, unsparing, passionate. All, I think, true. He also wrote extensively, even voluminously, mostly op-ed pieces in newspapers both in Houston and across the country. He consumed a tremendous amount of newsprint as well: I remember piles of newspapers snaking out of his office door and down the hall of the History Department.
At the same time, Professor Loewenheim could be, as a member of Rice’s academic community, rather a difficult individual. At times blunt to the point of combativeness, he seems to have always regarded himself as an outsider among his colleagues, although those whom he considered friends had his absolute loyalty. We have his papers in the Woodson–culled in one of the most remarkable episodes in my two decades at Rice from a veritable mountain of boxes that came from his estate–and they are truly wide-ranging and fascinating. I’m not doing him anything like justice in this short post and in fact it might not be possible to do so even if I wrote all day. He was really complicated. That’s what I see in the picture.