Another sad passing . . .

As you reach the status of elder in your family, you begin to understand on a fundamental level that life doesn't go on forever and that you'd better make the time you have left as meaningful and enjoyable and full of family and friends as you can.  It's one of the challenges of retirement, in a way, to make the shift from living and working for others to living for yourself -- how can I make this time a happy and productive one for me?  What do I want to do?  What do I like to do, what makes me happy?

At my age, I am reminded of the shortness of life far too often, if you ask me.  In the past two months, I've lost three people that I cared about:  a fellow teacher in the Writing Program at San Francisco State, a colleague from the dean's office who was like a brother to me, and now, my Stanford advisor, Arthur Applebee.

Those who have not gone through a doctoral program sometimes have difficulty understanding what the advisor/student relationship is like at that level.  Though you take classes from a variety of professors, you work most closely with one, and that relationship can help set the path of your doctoral work and beyond.  Without Arthur Applebee, I would not have had the career or, in a real sense, the life that I have enjoyed for the past 25 years.  Though I would eventually work with Judith Langer on my dissertation (another person to whom I owe much), Arthur was the constant presence during my years at Stanford and a major influence on my life.

Though Arthur was a man of formidable intelligence and great accomplishment, he was not one to put those qualities on display and most often encouraged his students to think issues through on their own.  I remember early in my program going to him with my registration form, asking him "So what am I supposed to take next quarter?" and his answer was typical, "What do you want to take?  What interests you?"  The requirements were very open and he wanted me to create my own path.

Many students entering a doctoral program suffer a bit of culture shock -- it's hard to go from an M.A. program, a smaller pond where you were likely a big fish, to the great big pond where suddenly you're not the smartest or most praised or admired.  You discover that many things you know are not valued any more -- one of the worst things you can hear in response to something you said in class is "that's anecdotal," as opposed to being research-based, and you sink down in your chair a little.  Certain 3rd year students feel compelled to show off the knowledge they've acquired by making critical remarks to first-year students in class, and your grades on papers sink from A+++ to B, barely passing for a doctoral student. 

Arthur helped me weather all those storms, offering support when I wanted to make better presentations in class, giving me helpful criticism on the papers I wrote.  It took about five quarters, I think, but finally I got a paper back that said, "This is a well written and well thought-out literature review.  A."  I actually cut that piece of Arthur's handwriting out and put it in a frame  -- I had worked so hard to receive that kind of praise, and when it came, I appreciated it deeply.

Arthur also went to bat for me in a number of ways.  When he and Judith Langer (his wife) decided to leave Stanford after she was denied tenure, the word from the Dean's office was that only those students who had passed their qualifying exams and were working on their dissertation would be allowed to continue with them as advisors (they were to come back several times over the following year).  Since I was close to my quals but hadn't done them and hadn't begun my dissertation, this was a disaster of major proportions -- to start over building a relationship with another advisor was something I couldn't imagine having to do.  I had an awful meeting with the Associate Dean that left me in frustrated tears, because he countered every argument I had for continuing to work with Judith, in a particularly condescending way.  Of course I went to Arthur, and of course he worked everything out.  I had a combined qualifying exam and proposal hearing in short order and went to work on my dissertation, finishing it within the year in which Arthur and Judith were returning to work with us.  I wanted to repay his confidence in me, and I did -- going from quals to the dissertation defense in one year is a major accomplishment.

In my genealogy blog, I want not only to share the history of my ancestors but also the events and people that have influenced my life.  I wouldn't be who I am today if not for the quiet, strong influence of Arthur Applebee.  He left us too soon, and he will always be remembered with great affection.  God bless, Arthur.  Rest in peace.

School of Education Mourns the Loss of Distinguished Professor


  1. I'm sorry for your loss, Elise. The fact that those older than us usually pass away before we do does not make the loss any easier. I'm sure you, and many others, will keep his memory alive, just as you have done with this post.

  2. Thanks, Nancy, for your comment. The sad thing is that two of the three men who have passed in the past two months were younger than I am -- one only 37.

  3. My sincere condolence. This was a beautiful tribute!


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