Miss Alice Dean Hits the Road, 1939

Sometimes I come across something so surprising I’m simply struck dumb. This is an amazing letter from Miss Dean ’16, Rice’s acting librarian until 1946 and a generally formal and quite serious person, at least while she was at work. The final sentences here in my opinion qualify as an outburst for her:

That’s irresistible. And in fact I do join her– after almost thirty years tomorrow is my last day at Rice.

I’ve learned a lot in those years. At the beginning I spent countless hours reading thousands of memos, reports, committee minutes, and a staggering variety of strategic plans attempting to understand Rice’s “institutional history.”  I was both naive and ignorant and so rather surprised to discover that this doesn’t actually get you very far. What I learned thereby is that at that level “institutional history” is largely the story of folly changing its clothes every decade or so. This is not uninteresting—those memos do in fact have a great deal of impact on the direction of the institution–but it’s undeniably dry and it leaves out the deep story almost completely. One wants something more. And it turned out that there was more. It turned out that it was the people as individuals; the scholars, the staff, the coaches, the people who cut the grass and empty our trash cans and take care of our buildings, all of them—that were truly interesting and understanding them was a critical part of understanding how Rice evolved.

There are hundreds of collections in the Woodson, thousands of photographs, millions of documents that overlap and intertwine. At some point I learned that if I just kept still and looked at absolutely everything that crossed my path—not just official correspondence but also thank you notes, address books, gin rummy score pads, condolence letters, dorm furnishings, wrought iron railings, dance cards, slide rules, match books, marginalia—I could know something not just about the evolution of say, the school of engineering, but about the humanity of the engineers who worked there. Once that happened every box I opened became a small tale out of Chekov. That will hold your attention for a good long time. It even made the interminable memos and reports spring to life—I no longer see only what someone wrote, I have some insight into the many and various reasons why they wrote it. I’ll really miss these people, my colleagues dead and alive. Getting to know them has been a profound and largely joyous education.

It’s no surprise either that there’s another side to this. It’s also allowed me to observe the folly of university life in intimate detail: the pointless and self-defeating internal arguments, power struggles where everyone loses, betrayals (both grand and petty), self-aggrandizement, thwarted ambitions, wasted energy, plans that should have worked but didn’t, and of course loads and loads of ordinary human suffering. At times this can feel like quite a heavy burden but through it I’ve learned that those I admire might sometimes disappoint and yet remain admirable. For the ways I’ve disappointed others here I beg your forgiveness.

In more mundane business I have a couple of long term projects I’m still working on that will keep me hanging around the Woodson for a while. I also still have lots of things stashed away on my laptop. So my plan is to take off the month of July for the annual trek to the Northwest. When I come back I’ll resume blogging but more like weekly rather than daily. I don’t really know how much longer I’ll do it so if you have requests, or want to donate something to the archives while I’m still around to see it, or if you just have something you need to get off your chest, do not delay. We’ll see what happens.

Bonus: In the mean time I imagine myself and Miss Dean as Thelma and Louise. What a pair we would be. That’s her on the right with no shoes on. I bet she’d make me drive.


Extra Bonus: I got a new grandson last week. This is Robert. He seems very bright.


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54 Responses to Miss Alice Dean Hits the Road, 1939

  1. Robert Brazile says:

    Congratulations (on all the many reason for it), and best wishes for the future! Thanks for all you’ve done for the Rice community. We’ll miss seeing you as often, but will enjoy what we have while we can. Also, a warm welcome to the newest of the fraternity of Roberts. I’m sure he is very bright.

  2. joni says:

    Wow, what a shock! It won’t be the same without you.
    Thanks for all your writings, research, and insights.
    You will be missed.

  3. Robert Toone (WRC ‘67) says:

    I will miss your very entertaining and interesting notes on Rice history. Having participated in the Bicentennial celebration, I feel a connection to the early days of the Institute, later the University, and so many of the names you have written of were either known in person to me, or I had felt like I knew them. I look forward to whatever you share with us in the future. Congratulations on your new grandson ! He’s already got a head start with the name !

  4. Galloway Hudson. Wiess '60 says:

    Thanks for everything, Melissa, and good luck Your title is “University Historian” Will there be an official successor?


  5. Marc Hairston says:

    Congratulations on your new life (freedom!) but we will definitely miss you! Will someone else be taking over the Rice History Corner posts?

  6. Barbara Bane. Jones '77 says:

    NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I read this blog everyday and find it the most interesting and quirky news about Rice University ever – the past is present. Will miss you so much.

  7. Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

    Say it ain’t so, Melissa!

  8. Congratulations and best wishes. Thank you for the intimate and meaningful window into the past. And to echo Barbara Bain, NOOOOOOO!! I cannot overstate how much I will miss your daily posts. And I will always appreciate the taste of fame you bestowed upon me when you posted the image of my Olga Korbut glory on Halloween.

  9. Michael Bludworth says:

    We will miss you, Melissa! Good work! …requests? You know me – Rice Aviation Grounds! Thanks for all the fish!

  10. Richard Schafer says:

    Best wishes, Melissa. Thanks for all you’ve done. Rice will be poorer without you.

  11. WILLIAM A COOKE '75 says:

    If Willy’s statue goes down, I hope yours goes up to replace it. You have done so much to tell the story of Rice history that would have been lost without you.

  12. James Medford says:

    Congratulations on a career well-spent, and thank you for the blog posts over the years! I used to think I was the only person who geeked out over the history of Rice and obsessed over the marginalia of old photos. Your posts and the comments from readers have become an important part of my weekly routine. And congrats on your new grandson!

  13. Happy for you, sad for us. I loved seeing what you brought up from the depths of the archive, and so grateful that Rice had an institutional historian—and that the historian was you.

  14. Lynne Hsu Xavier (WRC '88) says:

    And another Nooooooooo! Your blog posts have been a bright spot in my online meanderings. I’ve looked forward to both the posts and to the conversations that follow many of them. Thank you for everything.

  15. Bob Swanson says:

    “betrayals (both grand and petty)”
    Now that you no longer work there you can spill the beans!

  16. Sarah Bentley says:

    You really did good job, Melissa- Thanks most of all for your talent of interested listening- I was forced to leave earlier than I wanted and I still think I gave Rice more than it ever gave me. Congratulations on your new adventures and I can testify that grandsons are way fun!

  17. Lisa Slappey says:

    Congratulations on both of your big announcements. Thanks for providing us with such wonderful reading material today and throughout your many years of work dedicated to Rice history. The open road sounds fabulous. Safe travels!

  18. Paul Dishman says:

    Good looking grandson !!❤️

  19. Gloria Meckel Tarpley '81 says:

    And yet again — NOOOOOOOOOO! You are a set part of my daily routine and I have so enjoyed learning the minutia of Rice’s history. You’ve made a true Rice trivia geek of me, and I do hope you’ll keep us supplied with more, albeit less often. I am very happy for you, but sad for us — this is a wonderful window into the Rice of the past and I hope it will continue long into the future. In a year that has brought us much unhappiness and difficult change, this is but one more occurrence to regret. Silver lining? A happy retirement and much family time for you — enjoy your latest grandson, who is adorable! Happy trails, but please come back to visit often!

  20. Mike Ross says:

    Wow! It had to happen someday. I’m still saddened that the day has actually arrived.

    Congratulations on your fabulous career. You spread so much joy about the history of our alma mater … fascinating facts and insights; the human fun and foibles to which everyone can relate; wonders and warts, alike. I really appreciate all the detailed academic and imaginative creative work that you have done for the Rice community.

    Your blog has been a joy to read. I will miss it greatly. (I do hope that its contents from Day 1 will be archived in forms that will remain readable regardless of future software evolution.) It is, as you are, a Rice treasure.

    Best wishes for a joyous retirement. Enjoy the freedom … and family time.

  21. Congratulations and thank you for your wonderful Corner. I like your word description of “folly changing its clothes every decade or so” very much. I will promptly steal it to use elsewhere. To your point about folly, I read somewhere that academic politics are so ruthless because so little is at stake. Your new grandson appears to be very handsome and self-assured.

  22. Larry Johnson '78 says:

    I enjoyed your class on University History, offered for Alumni about 8 years ago. That class along with your blog posts have given me a deeper appreciation of the people and circumstances contributing to the place we have today. A balanced interpretation of that history will be needed as we contend with COVID, BLM and the segregationist symbology today. Don’t stray too far for too long, in the intermediate term. Rice will need you. Congratulations and thank you.

  23. effegee says:

    (Gasp) Say it isn’t so! But rejoice because there IS life after Rice!

    Thank you for the years of valuable insights, information, and entertainment.

  24. Wright Moody says:

    Thank you for all that you have done, somehow doesn’t seem enough. You have made a difference and I suggest that you will continue to make a difference! Enjoy that grandson and your time in the Northwest! I can’t remember if you’re near Sandpoint, Idaho, but if you are dinner will be on us! Otherwise, lunch in the fall will have to do! Take care, you are appreciated by many more than you’ll ever know.

  25. N Bailey says:

    No, no, no, no, nooooooooooo!

  26. Kathy Lewis Amen, Brown '71 says:

    This is sad news, but I wish you all the best in retirement. As someone who took that big step four (can it be that long?!) years ago, I highly recommend it! Especially if grandchildren are involved.

  27. rusk49 says:

    All the above comments cover my feelings, Melissa.
    Not “Goodbye”, just “’til we meet again”.

  28. Dale Henry, Lovett '75 says:

    First things first. Congratulations on the arrival of the newborn and best wishes to all involved. When one door closes, another opens. You will be sorely missed. My first cup of weekday coffee will no longer taste as good without the surprise and enjoyment of what you shared on Rice History Corner. Thank you for illuminating and bringing to life the history of the institution and the players who strutted and fretted on its stage. I hope to read more from you in the future. Good luck!

  29. Carolyn Brewer says:

    Melissa: I have tears in my eyes from hearing we will not be hearing from you as we have come to depend on for these years, and for you to remind us of Rice history and just life in general at Rice, past and present. And more importantly we will miss your fabulous sense of humor and the perspective you have shown about Rice, past and present.
    My warmest wishes for what you do next, after enjoying time out West, and I so look forward to what & when we hear much more from you whenever you feel inclined to share your thoughts with us. Stay well and remember your Rice followers love you..

  30. Lou Ann Montana says:

    Melissa, what a horrible shock this is! I wanted to think ‘this too shall pass’ was not true!

    I too was a daily reader – a bit of a ghost reader I suppose, but I found all your posts interesting and many of them simply inspiring. You will be sorely missed.

    Very best wishes for your life to come – I feel sure it will be wild and wonderful!

  31. Matthew Noall says:

    Although redundant with all the others I, too, will offer congratulations on your latest family addition and sadness at the passing of frequent blog posts. I have truly enjoyed all of them. I think they are especially nice for me as I am at such a remove from the campus. Enjoy your future. I will say that retirement is lots of fun!

  32. Pat Martin says:

    I, too, will miss your posts, Melissa. You’ve been the model of an institutional historian: you’ve kept our interests piqued day after day with stories of people, both important and incidental, buildings and grounds, policies and pranks of our beloved university. Enjoy your retirement and grandbabies, and come back to publish again. Let me know when you’re next in the office and I will bring you the Andy Warhol publicity piece I mentioned.

  33. Syd Polk says:

    Melissa, thanks for your wonderful contributions to the Rice experience. I have learned so much about the place from you. I wish you all the best in your next stage of life. You deserve it!

  34. Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67 says:

    I truly hope that you will enjoy your new found freedom and that you get to spend it in some place not so hot and humid. I could not have thus far survived the Pandemic had it not been for your posts and I can only hope that you will continue until a vaccine has been perfected. With love and affection,

  35. David Scott says:

    Thanks for your keen eye and story telling. Best wishes.

  36. Fred Oswald says:

    Melissa – It is one thing to study Rice history with such vigorous interest and intellectual curiosity – you have clearly done that. But you have so generously and consistently shared your well-informed stories that are always compelling and humorous — these are now our stories, with all the uncommon wisdom and uncommon challenges that come with them.

    Your history lessons will inform Rice’s future for years to come, as history (and yes, folly) continues its inexorable path — moving in circles, yet hopefully with forward movement as well, like a tire, or maybe an Owl in flight 🙂

    Speaking of Owl in flight – we will miss you dearly, and I’m already hoping our paths will cross, in a covid-free future where you are walking to Woodson, and I’m walking on the inner loop (again in circles, but with forward movement :).

    Best wishes

  37. Owlcop says:

    How many O’s are necessary in my Noooo to convey the loss of a kindred spirit here on campus. It will not be the same. Vaya con Dios!

  38. Marty Merritt (Hanszen '84/85) says:

    Well, this is such sad news for your many fans but I’m sure you will keep us in your thoughts and enjoy your comparative freedom. Fair winds and following seas! Don’t be a stranger!

  39. Bill Peebles, Hanszen '70 says:

    I ask this because I found myself in the same situation: Is your retirement your idea?

  40. Bill Johnson '57 - '58. says:

    Sure sorry to see you leave this post. My days will not be the same in reading your posts. Think that I still don’t know the whole story of the Peacock door plates on all original Rice doors. Also have kept waiting for the announcement of the maps of the school growth in all the new buildings. Also did not know that so many other students had trouble with the school and the animosity with it. Really enjoyed Dr. Jim Sims and Prof. Ryan in my last year there. Wish you well in retirement.

  41. dianebutleR says:

    Melissa, I refuse to accept it but so happy for you. I will miss our “trying to see who can get the coolest Owl memorabilia”. You did finally get a decanter to match mine. 😏 I hope to see you on campus.

  42. Terry Cloudman Hanszen '65 says:

    Thanks for all you have done over the years. You and your knowledge will be missed.

  43. CLARK BURTON Herring says:

    Enjoy your retirement you have earned it. Of all of the online sites that Rice has this one is my favorite. Woodson is also a great place to visit.

  44. Bill Harris says:

    There’s nothing much to add, except that I saw this on day one and was stunned. You have had a great impact on a significant number of us, and you will be sorely missed. Congratulations on your new career! Enjoy it!

  45. Guy Rollins says:

    Thank you for giving me a different perspective on Rice, one I never knew as a naive student. And I enjoyed your friendly personality!

  46. Michael Summers says:

    My father Edward was very fond of his Aunt. She was his Mentor always. I only remember her in the 1970’s coming down the stairs at the house on Sewanee and Plumb every so often when I was a child. We would be talking and go silent as we heard wood creaking first. Then someone would usually ask what everybody was thinking, “Is that Aunt Allie coming down?”. And then an expectant wait followed by a joyous greeting when she did come down.

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