Auld lang syne: my friends

UPDATED with memorial service information below.

You may have been wondering where the sardonic, spicy cowgirl Historiann has been this long holiday season. For that matter, I have too. My one and only New Year’s resolution–now that my book is well and truly in production–was to get back on the horse and find my blogging voice again. But the fact of the matter is that I’m grieving two colleagues who died in close succession, so I haven’t felt like putting on Historiann’s trademark sass.  If you care to read on, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my late friends, and why their deaths have made such a big hole in my heart.

The first, Andrew Cayton, died December 17 in Columbus, Ohio.  You may have read about him over at the Junto blog, which published a moving series of testimonies to his importance as a scholar of the early American republic and mentor to junior scholars. We met at the start of my career, when I found myself living in Oxford, Ohio and commuting to the University of Dayton. Drew and his wife Mary Kupiec Cayton were tremendous friends and mentors to me at a time when I needed a reality check as well as some letters of recommendation to get the heck out of that job. A model scholar, Drew was incredibly accomplished but always happy to extend the ladder down to help others on their way, as the remembrances over at the Junto demonstrate. I’m sure his example informs a great deal of what I’ve tried to here on this blog.  So there’s a good lesson for you, friends:  generosity and compassion gets paid forward, as does hostility and competitiveness, so be kind and try to help.

The other death is even more shocking and close-at-hand.  My colleague in the History department of Colorado State University, Jennifer Fish-Kashay, died Sunday January 3 of a heart attack in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She was only 49, and leaves behind a widower and two young children.  Jennifer was a historian of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Hawaii who wrote about early contact and conflict between native Hawaiians and Anglo-American merchants and missionaries, and who taught courses in the early U.S. Republic and Jacksonian America.  Jennifer was also trained in material culture and museum studies, so in our department she was central to the training and advising of our public history graduate students.

Always sensitive to the politics of Hawaiian history as a non-Native historian writing about native Hawaiians, her work was deeply informed by her training in anthropology. She published her articles widely, in journals ranging from New England Quarterly to the Pacific Historical Review, and from the Hawaiian Journal of History to the Western Historical Quarterly, among others.  (I was especially excited about her work on “Missionaries, Foodways, and Imperialism in Early 19th-Century Hawaii,” which was published in Food and Foodways in 2009, and her article on the history of sexuality in her 2007 article in New England Quarterly on “Agents of Imperialism:  Missionaries and Merchants in Early Nineteenth-Century Hawaii.”)  Her latest research was on religion, gender, kinship, and the transformation of death and burial rituals in early postcontact Hawaii.

I chaired the committee that hired Jennifer eleven years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since.  As a new mother myself at the time, I was sympathetic to Jennifer, whom we invited to interview on campus when she was nursing a one-month old.  I and my colleagues on the search committee made the argument (successfully) that we should also pay to fly her husband out to Fort Collins as well as get them a rental car so that she could nurse her baby while on campus.  It was the best money we ever spent on a hire, and the easiest form of good will to extend to a potential future colleague.

Although I know that several of my colleagues read this blog, she was an especially enthusiastic reader, and the only one in my department who would pull me aside and talk to me about a recent post.  We disagreed on a lot of issues, both within our department as well as in the wider world, but we could talk about our disagreements.  Jennifer was an enthusiastic gun owner as well as a rigorous practitioner of gun safety.  After the murders of the first-graders and their teachers at Sandy Hook in 2012, we agreed a lot more on gun policy than we disagreed.  One of the last things she did for our department was to set up a meeting last month with a campus police officer on surviving a live shooting event, which most of the faculty attended and which we found enormously helpful as well as sobering.

For those of you who knew Jennifer and who might be able to attend, her memorial service will be Friday, January 15 at 11 a.m. at the Allnutt Funeral Service at 650 Drake Road in Fort Collins, Colorado.

My entire department is in shock.  I’ve been crying on and off for the past 40 hours or so since I learned of her death, and there’s a fresh pile of damp and snotty tissues next to me right now.  (Note to self: get Lysol wipes on keyboard ASAP after publishing.) I know this blog has been kind of a bummer lately, with way too much grief blogging, but I guess this is just where Historiann–both the blog and the blogger–is right now.  Thanks for your understanding, friends.   I hope soon to recover my voice, find my spurs, and get back on ol’ Seminar soon enough.

Be kind as well as wise. Help each other out. We’re all in this together.

57 thoughts on “Auld lang syne: my friends

  1. Oh, Historiann, I am so sorry to hear about the death of these colleagues. And how especially shocking the loss your Colorado State friend must be. My condolences to you and your department as your grieve this loss.


    • Thanks, Liz. It’s a real gut-punch, but we’re pulling it together to help out our master’s students, esp. those who plan to graduate in the spring.


  2. Thanks very much for this blog. I’m really sorry to hear about Andrew and to know that you’re grieving the loss of two colleagues. I share in your shock and sorrow over Jennifer’s death and greatly appreciate your generous comments about her scholarship, character, and contributions to our department.


  3. I am sorry to hear about the loss of your friends and please accept my condolences. You have written a fitting tribute to both of your colleagues. Thank you for sharing their lives and legacies with us.
    I enjoy reading your blog because it always provokes me to think, especially when you tackle tough topics, like grief.


  4. Oh, I’m so sorry, H’Ann. There’s been a lot of unexpected death in my personal and professional life this year, too, so I know some of what you’re feeling–though the specifics, of course, matter, and are never fully equivalent.

    Our relationships with colleagues-who-are-also-friends are intense in unique ways, which makes their loss a special kind of grief.


    • I’m sorry you’ve had a bad year too, Flavia. Maybe like me, you’re sick to death of death already.

      Notice to all readers and friends: no more death, pls.! We’re done for the year, at least.


    • Thanks, Bardiac. I can do more for Jennifer’s family and students, and I am in RL. I’ve been informed that this obituary has been shared with her widower.

      I’m so sorry about Drew, and that we were out of touch for several years. The last time I saw him was in Atlanta at the 2014 Organization of American Historians meeting in April. I went to his panel, an overview on new scholarship in the Early Republic, on a whim, and mostly just to say “hi” to him. He was his gregarious and encouraging old self–Sue Juster (another friend and career consigliere) was also at his panel and we told him how excited we were to be at the Huntington together for the coming academic year.

      And then that was it. Of course, I thought we’d have years for future run-ins and catch-ups along the way, but it wasn’t to be.


  5. I’m very sorry to hear this — being in a fairly small department must amplify the shock. Take care of yourself, first. I miss the cowgirl who provokes such great discussions, but we can wait and carry on while you attend to more important matters.


    • Thanks, Paul. It really stinks.

      I can’t believe anyone hasn’t yet pointed out what typical academics they were: waiting until after the close of the fall quarter or semester to die! I’m sure many of you experience what I do, which is that I seem ONLY to get sick in late December-January or in May. Sometimes we’re too devoted.


  6. I did not know Drew (though reading your tribute to him, I wish I had). But Jennifer’s death has come as a terrible, dreadful shock. She was so warm, smart, and generous. And so young.

    My deepest sympathies to you and your colleagues.


    • Thanks, Rebecca: I should have noted that she was a big WAWH (Western Association of Women Historians) backer. She’s the person who got me involved, along with our colleague and one of her best friends, Jodie Kreider. We should do something in her honor when the conference meets in Denver in May.


  7. I’m sorry to hear about both of these losses, Historiann. Drew’s last book was incredibly good. I was supposed to review it, but could barely finish it–because it was just that very good. I wondered what he would do next. I’ve failed to complete a book review or two in the past because I couldn’t be as negative as I would have had to be, but never one because of how good it was. I had intended to contact him this past summer to report some things I had just found in the archives along the lines of that book–but, as you say, you always think there will be opportunities for that kind of thing. And there weren’t. And, as you also say, the part about generosity and paying forward. Also very true…


    • Thanks, Indyanna. I remember that you had given his book a private, emailed rave review when you forwarded me the McNeil Center’s email announcing his death. At least his work will stand, and I hope your review eventually appears, because he still deserves it even if he can’t read it himself. You know that his widow, Mary, will be watching his reviews.


  8. I thought we’d have years Aye, there’s another rub. The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks. That crying is important, make the most of it you can.

    Warm wishes from the south, H’Ann.


  9. Thanks for such a lovely tribute. I knew them both, but in quite different contexts. Dr. Cayton was my favorite professor as an undergraduate at Miami of Ohio some 20+ years ago (and despite the fact that I now have one of those pesky Ph.D.s, he is still and always will be Dr. Cayton). I learned so much from him and always hoped to have the chance to say as much in person.

    Jennifer was a friend and colleague – she was finishing her dissertation when I started at the University of Arizona but I really got to know her in Colorado through our mutual friend in Denver. I just saw her and her sweet kids last week. I’m still in shock that she’s gone. I can’t tell you how much it means to read these words about what a fine scholar and colleague she was. Many thanks.


    • Oh, Catherine: my condolences on both of your losses, and thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

      Jennifer’s kids are really sweet. They were at the center of her life, and she was so proud of them. You wouldn’t believe the numbers of people in Fort Collins who are mobilizing to keep the family fed for the next month and a half, at least–most I assume are parents of children at the same school as the Kashay kids.


  10. Thank you, Ann, for this beautiful tribute to Jennifer. My heart is broken; it doesn’t feel real, but your words are comforting and echo my own heart – she was so kind and compassionate, as she made herself available to new professionals – indeed, sought us out – as we adjust to the world of academia. I feel I lost an ally, but her wisdom and encouragement will stay with me always.


    • Thanks, Tony. I’m feeling better today. I think blogging helped me come to terms with this, at least until Jennifer’s memorial service next week. That will be a very sad occasion.


  11. Oh, dear. This is the part of getting older that I don’t like, and I realize he many ghosts there are in my life, people whose voices I can still hear, whose responses to my work I still want…

    I’m at the AHA, and it’s the p,ace I would run into Drew, who was one of my grad school cohort (a small group). I found myself missing running into him. We were in different fields, so didn’t cross paths often, but it was t supposed to end this soon.

    As for your colleague, you have made her come to life. There is no easy comfort – personally or professionally. But I’m sorry.


  12. Jennifer was one of the kindest, friendliest people I ever met. She picked me up at DIA in their old pickup when I came to interview at CSU and we chatted all the way to Fort Collins. We used to get together with our families a few times during the year and talk, gossip and joke about work and life in general. I’m so glad we got the chance to see each other again when I visited FC with my family two summers ago. My dad died when I was 16 after a long illness but even so I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have your spouse/parent pass away so suddenly.


  13. Pingback: Deeds not Words: Alice Paul makes the Google doodle today | Historiann

  14. Thanks, Alison. It’s really knocked us all on our butts, but we’re picking up and will make it work for her students, who are also in shock and grieving.


  15. What a shock. I am so sorry to hear of Jennifer’s passing. I can’t add anything to what people have said, except that some people have a wide, strong impact on others. Her family should know that she had a major influence on many people.


  16. I’m thankful for Jennifer Fish Kalay, and to WAWH, for connecting us. It was mostly logistical emails, but she was a great help on settling location details at TWO conferences; her experiences and advice helped shape our policy on the conference program committee too. Our meeting in Denver will have her handiwork behind it. I loved meeting her at Pomona and the way she went from verbally expressing a desire to be more involved to diving right in within days and bringing Jodie with her. Only from her obit did I learn we have a CSU connection. My sympathies to her family, friends and colleagues. Grieving great loss is always a sign of great love.


    • Thanks, Jessica. We’ll plan something special for the meeting in Denver (along with Jodie) to commemorate her involvement in the WAWH.


  17. Pingback: Busy, tired, sad, and fearful. And you? | Historiann

Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.