Celebrating the career of Professor Emeritus Edward Griffin, who retired in May, 2010
Praise is commonplace at retirement events; more rarely, the word "love" is used, as it was more than once in honoring Professor Edward Griffin upon his retirement after 44 years with the Department of English, celebrated April 7, 2010, in the Arthur Upson Room in Walter Library. Speaker after speaker celebrated Professor Griffin's "fundamental decency and generosity" as a teacher and colleague (quote from Professor Emeritus Ted Wright). The tall man with the big voice and the ready anecdote was forced to listen to a parade of affectionate stories all starring Ed Griffin.
This was a professor who always talked with pride of the accomplishments of former graduate students, and on that afternoon in they walked, from Massachusetts and Texas and Connecticut and all parts regional. Karen Weierman (PhD 1999), Assistant Professor of English, Worcester State University, spoke on behalf of four tenure-tracked graduates of the American Literature Subfield in the 1990s, recalling their mentor's tireless support and encouragement: "There are not enough words to express our gratitude."
Retiree Doris Marquit (PhD 1977) credited her former adviser for turning her into a scholar at mid-life: "He took me and my scholarly interests seriously, so I did too. That new identity has been part of me ever since."
Professor Griffin chaired the Department of American Studies for eight years in the 1980s and advised many graduate students there. "Ed communicated not only his intellectual interest in literature, but his personal joy in it," noted one, Catherine Spaeth, now Director of the Office of Global Studies at St. Catherine University.
Professor Michael Hancher led the celebration program, quoting from former students and colleagues and from Professor Griffin's autobiographical essay "Hoops & Hurdles: The Unlikely Story of How I Learned How I Learn." Most of the testimony could be summed up with this sentence from Rose Cutting (PhD 1972), Chair, Department of English and Communication Studies, St. Mary's University: "I feel blessed and lucky that Ed Griffin has stood for 40 years as my assurance that great scholar/teachers are also great human beings."
Some weeks later, taking a break from clearing out his office, Professor Griffin chuckles at his befuddled reaction to the party. "I was having a hard time processing all that," he remembers. "My wife said, 'How come you didn't see all this coming?' I said, 'I don't know, Jean, I just never understood!'"
As he did at the party, Griffin emphasizes how grateful he is to the students and colleagues who have kept him on his toes. "Counting my graduate school days, I've spent almost half a century in the company of people between 17 and 35. If I walk away from that cold turkey, it'd be like cutting off my arm. Who's going to keep me thinking? Who's going to ask all these questions I've never thought of before? I've seen people who think golf is going to be enough. It's not enough. Somehow you have to do something systematic to make sure that you really don't start coasting."
Professor Griffin has two projects to provoke his intellect. After swearing to never write another biography of an octogenarian (in 1980 he published Old Brick: Charles Chauncy of Boston, 1705-1787), he fell for the 18th century American poet--and loyalist--Mather Byles. "You want to write that death bed scene," he jokes, "and you have to write the whole century. Luckily I've been studying that century for 20 years. I feel like I can locate this life in the fabric of what it was like in the years leading up to and after the American Revolution with a kind of particularity that will make it read like an historical novel. Although I'll tell you, everything in there can be documented."
He's also editing a collection of the letters of Byles' two daughters, Catherine and Mary. Griffin has spent 10 years tracking down nearly 2000 letters. "We know very little about loyalist women," Griffin stresses. "And we know next to nothing about women who stayed in Boston. I tell you, it opens a window on the Revolution and the early national period all the way to the age of Emerson."
Griffin will keep his brain cells engaged in other ways as well. At the party, one of his former graduate students remembered asking him to take on her dissertation. "He said that when you get him as an adviser, you get him for life."
Penelope Kelsey (PhD 2002), Associate Professor, University of Colorado, seconded. "Ed mentored me through being a TA, dissertating, and entering the job market. He also provided a great deal of support via email as I settled into my first tenure-line job, helping me transition fully from job candidate to colleague. He has kept in touch with me through three tenure-line jobs. What a swell guy!" she concluded.
I'll tell you, everything in there can be documented.