By Rebecca Haidt
I first met David perhaps 24 or 25 years ago at (I believe) a Mid-America conference. I was giving a paper on Fray Gerundio—my first conference paper while on the tenure track. As I was speaking, I saw a tall, slim, dark-haired man cross the back of the room rapidly and make a bee line toward Randolph Pope, with whom I was blessed to have done my dissertation. Someone next to me on the panel—was it Lin Sherman?—leaned over and whispered that that was David Gies. I must have been introduced to David after the session; but the real first meeting came later, at the conference luncheon. David approached my seat and said “come over here, sit next to me.” This was my first experience of David’s compelling friendliness and charm; the sense that with David, anything could happen. So of course I followed David! And when we sat down, he said: “Your paper was terrific. Keep doing good work. As long as you do good work, I will support you.”
Now, this was said with simple directness, a quality I value tremendously (and have come to appreciate in David as the mark of someone who knows how short are our days here on this planet, and how important it is to make them count). But I did not yet know the generosity and compassion David brought to everything he did with and for his students. I did not yet know his incredible smarts, his consummate work ethic, his passion for excellence, his global vision. I did know that someone eminent in my chosen field had just made two remarkable things happen in the space of a few seconds: He had made a pact with me; and —more important— he had made me think, “I can do good work if David thinks I can do it.”
As I remember that moment, it was the start of a commitment, which is different from only professing something. I committed to do good work as a scholar. I would say that is the greatest gift David gave me that day, had he not also gifted me with keeping the promise he made all those years ago. Over the years, David has never stopped being a mentor. Through my ups and downs, my better and worse, David has advised me, and recommended me to others; he has given me opportunities, and helped me in emergencies. He stuck with me even when I didn’t take his always excellent advice. He remembered what I was capable of, even when I didn’t. I will not achieve even a tenth of what David has worked to bring about during his amazing career as a gifted scholar, teacher, administrator, and connector. But I am profoundly grateful to know this star of a human being, fiercely alive, fiercely creating, fiercely giving. How fortunate I was to get out of my chair all those years ago, and follow him.