Coffee with Roy, "Roy and CHNM"
by Kelly Schrum
Coffee with Roy March 29, 2008
In thinking about what to say this morning, in thinking about Roy and the Center for History and New Media, I looked through the hundreds of entries on the Thanks, Roy website, many from former and current CHNMers, and was once again struck by the eloquence, the humor, the passion for social justice, and the incredible work ethic that comes through—all things that Roy both embodied and fostered in others.
I also looked at the tags and the themes that had emerged. Some were to be expected—coffee, history and digital history, the ever-present red (or maroon) shirt and jeans. Many others were also no surprise to those who knew and worked with Roy—decency, kindness, generosity, humility.
One tag that drew my attention was “driving.” It reminded me of a drive I took with Roy shortly after I started working at CHNM. We were flying to New York City to meet with Josh, Ellen, and Pennee about History Matters. Roy and Deborah lived close to National Airport, so I drove from my home in Maryland, parked at their house, and Roy drove us to the airport. On the way, Roy started telling a complicated, engaging story about the “ins and outs” of publishing Who Built America—the curious twists and turns, the quirky individuals and intrigues along the way. Somewhere in there, we exited the GW Parkway and entered the airport, the circular drive that takes you past the various parking garages, the passenger drop off, the rental cars. And as Roy talked and drove, we passed the rental cars, the departures and arrivals, and the parking terminals A, B, and C. And we drove right back out of the airport and onto the parkway.
Roy was a devoted storyteller and deeply engaged in many interesting, intellectual ideas at any given moment. In this case, Roy’s passion for making history public, making it available and accessible, for telling the stories of ordinary people, and his fascination with the sometimes convoluted path that it took to do so led to a new way of reaching the airport, but one that worked in the end nonetheless. We found our way back to the airport and made the plane in plenty of time.
Working with Roy for more than 7 years at CHNM, I came to appreciate and cherish that some days were like this. That getting from point A to point B might take an unexpected path. But whatever the path, Roy had the remarkable ability to stay focused on the important things in life—people, history, and open access to the past—through untold histories as well as through technology. In day-to-day work, sometimes get distracted by annoyances or minor setbacks, but Roy always had the truly admirable ability to keep things in perspective, to focus on the larger meaning of the work.
In a discipline known for the work of individuals, Roy was dedicated to collaboration (another popular tag on Thanks, Roy) and to breaking down traditional boundaries. Roy remained committed to the process of collaboration, even when it was slower and messier than working alone, as it usually is.
In part, I think it is because Roy knew the advantages of bringing together a range of minds and ideas, of sharing and discussing. But he also truly enjoyed working with people—talking, listening, developing ideas collaboratively. As CHNM grew from one full time employee, Elena, and a few graduate assistants to a staff of more than 40, this got harder to do. Roy’s days were filled, truly packed from beginning to end, with email, meetings, problems to be resolved, grants to be written, and ideas to be grappled with. But he always made time to get to know each person who was hired, to help them make connections and plan their futures; to make sure that they felt welcome and a part of the larger purpose of CHNM and its work.
Roy signed his emails “Take Care, Roy” and this he always did—of the past and of the present, of the stories and the people.