Tribute to Roy: Kathi Brown's Remarks from December 9, 2007 Celebration in Arlington, Virginia

Contributed By Kathi Brown

Text

Good afternoon.

I’m Kathi Brown, a former student of Roy’s...as well as former neighbor...and also a friend. I met Roy more than 20 years ago when I first entered the evening Masters program in History at GMU. I also had the privilege of being one of Roy’s research assistants on the opus that he and Betsy Blackmar crafted on the history of Central Park.

When Roy’s wife Deborah e-mailed me a month ago to invite me to say a few words today, it took me approximately a nanosecond to reply with an enthusiastic “Yes!....Please!....Thank you!”

No sooner did I hit SEND to respond to Deborah’s invitation than I burst out laughing.

I pictured Roy, wide-eyed and astonished over the speed with which I had accepted an invitation to speak in public.

He knew first-hand how much I loathe standing up in front of an audience. In fact, it was an ongoing joke between us. After I graduated with my Masters degree and started my historical consulting business back in the late 1980s, Roy used to ask me once a year to come back to campus to talk to graduate students about my career. Each year, like clockwork, I would listen to his invitation...hoot with delighted laughter...look him straight in the eye and reply: “Love you...would do almost anything in the world for you...EXCEPT this...NO!”

After a few of these comically predictable annual exchanges, Roy conceded defeat and presumably found others who were less stubborn and more willing to say yes.

Today, of course, is the exception that proves the rule. I could not in my wildest dreams imagine turning down Deborah’s invitation.

Which brings to mind what I think is probably my all-time favorite quality in Roy.

Roy, as we all well know, was brilliant...funny....eloquent...
inspiring...and blessed with the kind of giant mind, gentle spirit and generous heart that are rarely found cobbled together in one human being.

But the trait I probably cherished most in Roy was something in which he was abysmally, magnificently lacking:

Roy possessed a complete and utter inability to say NO.

Need to borrow a book? Sure! No problem! Come on over to the Kaplan-Rosenzweig Lending Library anytime! Conveniently open from dawn to midnight. No lines, no limits, no late fines or fees............I loved it! And benefited from it, in part because I lived only four blocks away from Roy and Deborah for ten years...Believe me, I wore a trough in the sidewalk between their house and mine.

Looking for a level-headed analysis of an existential crisis? Roy was my go-to guy. I could always count on him for a no-nonsense, if somewhat bemused interpretation of life’s quandaries. Mostly because I gave the poor man absolutely no choice, Roy shepherded me gently from my mid-20s “What should I do with my life?” to my current late-40s, middle-aged “OKayyyyyyyy, that was great! NOW what?” If he had stayed with us for another couple of decades, I have no doubt that he would have had wise words and entertaining advice to offer me on everything from menopause to choosing a retirement community.

Yet another area in which Roy could never manage to say NO was in the realm of computers. I can’t think of anyone who had more technology per square inch stuffed into a home office than Roy. Whenever I walked in the door at his Jackson Street house, I felt like I was boarding the Starship Enterprise.

Roy’s affinity for the latest in high-tech toys proved his undoing. At least where I was concerned. Knowing that I had an expert living mere blocks away prompted me more than once to throw myself on Roy’s mercy when contemplating a computer purchase.

Even now, a full 20 years later, I’m still half-ashamed of myself for the time I successfully pestered Roy into driving around Arlington with me one afternoon to three or four computer stores to protect me from fast-talking, geek-speaking salesmen. He did all the talking, while I more or less hid behind him, checkbook in hand, ready to close the deal whenever he gave me the signal!

The next time around I was just as bad. When the time arrived to upgrade again, I actually made Roy call J&R Music and Computer World, a big electronics discounter in New York, pick out a computer and negotiate a mail order sale for me.

Later that day I got a call from him.

“Kathi? Roy. OK, here’s what you do. Get out your wallet. Call 1-800-806-1115. Ask for extension 352. A very nice, non-threatening guy named Ed is standing by to take your credit card number....”

I kid you not!

Perhaps even worse than begging for help with my computer purchases were the COUNTLESS times I dragged Roy away from the comfort of his home office to rescue me from some computer-related snafu of my own clumsy-fingered making.

Just one example. I will never forget the time I managed to wipe out an entire book manuscript with just a few keystrokes. How I accomplished this incredible feat, to this day, I have no idea. All I know is that I sat dumbstruck at my computer for a few seconds and then did the ONLY logical thing....

“Roy?” I cried tearfully into the phone. “My computer just ate my book!!!! Help!!!!”...There was a moment of silence...Then the voice on the other end replied calmly: “OK, put down the phone, raise your hands and slowly baccccckkkk awaaaaay from the desk. Don’t touch anything!! I’ll be right over!”

Sure enough, Roy popped up on my doorstep five minutes later and spent at least THREE hours picking through my hard drive, scooping up shards of prose and reassembling as much of my opus as he could find. All the while, trying to comfort me. All I could do was sit next to him, doing a fine impression of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” staring helplessly at the screen, and humbly thanking him every five minutes for rescuing my baby from oblivion.

And, naturally, Roy being Roy, as he was leaving, he extracted from me a solemn promise to learn to BACK UP MY COMPUTER, LOL!

How can you not love a friend like that????

I’m sure there were times when Roy might have preferred to Control-Alt-Delete me AND my computer problems right out of his life, but fortunately for me, he was too loyal and too kindhearted to say NO, no matter how ludicrous or ill-conceived my request......My comfort lies in the hope that along the way I provided him with sufficient entertainment—and friendship—to make it worth his while to keep me around!

I’m just about out of time, but before I turn things over to the next speaker, I have just a little more to add, on a more serious note.

Roy was my hero.

Plain and simple.

When I first walked into Roy’s classroom on a September evening more than twenty years ago, I had no inkling that the mustached man with the shy smile and twinkling eyes at the head of the room was about to forever change the way I see the world.

Not by hammering me over the head with the kind of ear-splitting, in-your-face, see-it-my-way-or-hit-the-highway blustering that dominates our public discourse today.

Instead, he did it quietly.

By putting the right books in my hands...

By taking me on as a research assistant so I could learn the incomparable pleasures of historical detective work...

He did it by listening...REALLY listening...never once in more than 20 years giving me the feeling that any question, any opinion, any idea I had was not worthy of serious consideration and a serious response.

Above all, Roy did it by teaching me to ask the right questions.

Not just in the classroom...

Not just in my consulting work...

And not merely questions about the past...

Instead, he taught me to ask questions on a bigger, broader scale...about the way the world really works...or, often, doesn’t work.

Questions I’ll be asking today...tomorrow...and for the rest of my life.

The ability to shape someone’s mind for the better is a gift...the value of which is not to be underestimated.

Fortunately, for those of us who were his students, Roy possessed that gift, in spades.

So, whenever it was, 30 or more years ago, that Roy was presented with the opportunity to choose teaching as a career, rather than find something else to do with that magnificent mind of his....

I, for one, will always be grateful..........that he didn’t say NO.

Thank you.