By Alvin (Lin) Sherman
There are people who enter and pass through one’s life, leaving few evidences of their presence. There are others who one would simply prefer to forget. There are still a select few who come into one’s life and impact it for a lifetime. David Gies was one of those few, select souls who came into my life and influenced my way of seeing, understanding, and appreciating the world around me.
My time at the University of Virginia did far more than provide me with an amazing education. I had the privilege of being mentored by David and of working as his research assistant. He never hesitated to give credit in his publications of the work that his assistants gave. His classes were enthralling. One of my favorites was a course on Romantic Theater. His enthusiasm and engagement with the subject was contagious. He was also a bit sneaky! As part of the class we read volumes of critical articles. I remember getting to class to discuss the articles. He would ask us what we thought of the readings. Of course, we wanted to impress our professor with our intellect, so we would begin to laud article after article. Then, at the appropriate moment, David would say something like, “Such-and-such article is terrible!” We quickly learned to read secondary articles more carefully. He taught us to be discerning and to not accept everything we read as “gospel truth.” I learned quickly that a published article doesn’t always communicate intelligence. On a broader scale, David taught me to pause, to think carefully about what I hear (or read), and then ask the right questions. I have tried to emulate his example in my own teaching.
Our one-on-one conversations were engaging. I never felt like a “student.” David ALWAYS treated me as a person with ideas, opinions, and sacred beliefs. As a Mormon I could have felt out of place in that academic environment, but David never made my religion an issue. I am certain that he didn’t always agree with me, but I knew that he respected me and my opinion. He would listen carefully and then take the opportunity to teach. All of us know that he has an amazing sense of humor. His wit pushed the envelope and caused me to pause and think about what lay beyond the humor.
David looked for opportunities to broaden our contacts and horizons. On one occasion I received a phone call from David with an invitation to dinner. He then added that I would be Isabel Allende’s dinner companion and would need to pick her up from her hotel and take her home. I was very nervous, but accepted (of course!!). It was an amazing experience to sit in on and participate in that conversation. He believed in giving his students as many opportunities to “rub elbows” with visitors to the university.
David never tired of mentoring me (if he did, he never let on!!). Early in my career David would read and critique my writing, providing me with insights of how I could improve an article. The result was some very productive scholarly works. There is nothing better for any young scholar than to have a star like David to take time from his busy schedule to continue that valuable mentoring activity.
We are all aware of David’s academic and intellectual successes as a writer, professor, administrator, and mentor. Most importantly is his humanness. While offering a short course at BYU David came to our home for dinner. At the time we had four young children. When he arrived at our home, our children were playing with their Rescue Heroes on the floor in the dining area. David came in and almost immediately fell to his knees and began to play with my children. David engaged with my children at their level and made them feel important. Priceless!
I count myself fortunate to have David as a friend. With his dear wife Janna (who I love and respect) they continue to spread kindness, love, generosity and goodness to friends, family and strangers. Thank you for all that both of you offer those around you.
Abrazos, Lin Sherman (Ph.D. 1990)