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December 20, 2005

In Memoriam, Jeremiah Fain Epstein

Even though I've lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul for over 15 years, many days can go by when I don't run into or hear about a familiar person (except of course at work or at home). But whenever I return to Austin, familiar people make themselves known immediately. On my first morning back in Austin for the holidays, I opened the newspaper to find the obituary of my favorite anthropology professor from undergraduate days, Dr. Jeremiah Fain Epstein.

I minored in anthropology and loved every minute of it. I took two exciting courses from Dr. Epstein: the Civilizations of Ancient Mexico and The Mayans. His specialty was archaeology of Mesoamerica, and he excited us with the mysteries of ancient civilizations and the research that he and others had done to try to figure out the many puzzles left behind by these enigmatic people. I still remember the paper I wrote for the Civilizations of Ancient Mexico -- it concerned the migration myths of the Aztecs. I remember spending many mornings in the Latin American collection of the library, finding source documents in Spanish that had been written by the Spanish friars of the 17th century. I recall that one focus of the paper was Huitzilopochtli, the national god of the Aztecs.

Huitzilopochtli.jpg

Of course, my Spanish was extremely limited, but it was exciting to experience what he called "primary research" - not just rehashing what others had already rehashed, but finding source documents and making them give up their secrets. I am sure that his love of research and encouragement of a humble undergraduate contributed to my seeking a research career. In fact, he was one of the three faculty who wrote me letters of recommendation for graduate school.

Obituaries are always fasincating for what they reveal about people we only knew in one dimension. The paper noted that in addition to his career teaching at UT for 34 years, "Jerry was a man of many passions - he embraced life to its fullest and never lost his curiosity. He was an accomplished squash player, saliboat racer and flamenco guitar player, as well as a recognized metal art sculptor."

It was a privilege to have been one of his students; I'm sorry I never had the opportunity to tell him I had passed on his excitement about research to my students. Maybe he'll be reading this...... Thanks, Dr. Epstein

Posted by hgroteva at December 20, 2005 6:06 AM | In Memory / In Honor

Comments

You caught his spirit! Thank you.

I'll pass your blog to his three daughters.

Posted by: Ruth Epstein at May 9, 2006 3:10 PM

My Mother, Ruth Epstein, who was married to Jerry for over 25 years, was so happy to come across your site.

It is such a tremendous loss to lose Dad--he was such an inspiration. It is great comfort to know that he lives on in those whose lives he touched. Dad was a very modest man--he truly had no appreciation for how special he was--but we all remember. I will send you a photo of him taken about a month before he died, if you send me your email address. Thank you for keeping his memory alive.

Louise Epstein
2nd daughter, still in Austin.

Posted by: Louise Epstein at May 9, 2006 3:39 PM