Remembering A Happy Night for Roy

Contributed By Mack P. Holt


It has been a very sad week for us in the History Department at George Mason. Roy’s death has left a hole in our hearts as well as in our intellects. So many wonderful things could be said about him, and many of them already have been said by others. So, in this time of grieving, I want to reminiscence on a happier time, indeed one of the happiest times I ever experienced with Roy. It was on Saturday night, February 20, 1999. The setting was a colleague’s home, where most of the department and their spouses had gathered to honor Roy, accompanied by lots of food and drink. The occasion was his appointment as a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Scholar, the closest thing the college had to an endowed chair at the time, and the highest honor the college could give him. As I was also on the review committee appointed by the dean to advise on this appointment, I recall with pleasure one of the dozen or so outside letters by the some of the most distinguished historians in the country whom the dean solicited for their evaluations of Roy’s scholarly accomplishments. One of them began her letter with a striking statement: “Roy is a national treasure!” I had never thought of Roy in this way (Roy as Grand Canyon? Roy as Julia Child?), but it certainly rang true then, as it still does. But on the night of February 20, 1999 we were gathered in a spirit of fun, pleasure, and boundless admiration for a colleague whom everyone adored. One of our former chair’s, Marion Deshmukh, had started the tradition that on such occasions we should endeavor to create some doggerel, scribbled verse, or other creative party piece to honor the occasion. So on that night, I read aloud a limerick I had jotted down earlier in the day. It seemed fitting for the occasion and made me very proud and privileged to call Roy my friend and colleague. Upon re-reading it this week as I have been reflecting on Roy, it still seems fitting and says (in its own abominable way) what I still feel about him, indeed what we all feel.


There was once a historian named Roy
Who was very perceptively coy.
He wondered why history
Was always a mystery
In all that he heard as a boy.

So he decided to make history a vocation,
And studied the American nation.
Though much to his surprise
He discovered all the lies
That had been spread since the beginning of creation.

From Columbia to Harvard he ascended,
Where he his dissertation defended.
He looked at workers' leisure
And all they did for pleasure
Eight hours every day, so he contended.

But he also met a lady from Brandeis
Whose hold over him began to aggrandize.
So he decided to woo her
And eventually pursue her,
Which made quite a match woman and man-wise.

So he set out in earnest to give chase,
But his beloved was setting the pace.
He found that too often
She was thinking of Jane Austin,
So he rarely made it to first base.

But wedlock and marriage are the ultimate blessing
Despite all the statistics so distressing.
To Washington and George Mason
They both soon did hasten,
Where they began a new life of professing.

Then Roy took off into Central Park
Which became his next major lark.
From the Tavern on the Green
To the eastern ravine,
He recorded it all, even muggers in the dark.

Then he launched the Center for History and New Media,
Which would transform poor old Clio he decreed. He, uh,
Made a CD-ROM that offended,
So the Wall Street Journal contended,
Because of gay cowboys and other such tedia.

But any distress Roy easily disguises
Because his CD-ROM won so many prizes.
And his history of the net
Will be his best work yet,
Or so one of his grad students surmises.

But what one notices of Roy is how hard he works.
There's nothing or no one that he shirks.
The late hours he keeps
And rumors he occasionally sleeps
Are part of his charming quirks.

But Roy is a friend always unfailing and just,
A constant someone we can always trust.
Even as CAS Distinguished Scholar
He's never too big for his collar,
Which makes Roy a King among us.

So tonight we have all gathered to attest
That Roy stands out from all the rest.
And though a trite cliché,
It's true anyway:
We salute you Roy; you're the best.

[February 20, 1999]

And you are the best, Roy. Rest in peace, dear friend.