David Gies: presente

By Ted Peebles

The occasion of David’s retirement got me to dig through some old boxes of photographs from the pre-digital late 1980s and early 1990s when Aurora and I were graduate students.  So many pictures –and yet so few of David, which wouldn’t be all that strange, except for the background… David’s back yard?  That must be one of the back-to-school departmental picnic he hosted for several years.  Isn’t that David’s living room furniture?  Must be one of the Oscar night watch parties I remember attending (he had the biggest TV I’d ever seen –and a spectacular video collection).  David is not in the frame, of course, because he was everywhere else:  pulling something delectable out of the oven, helping Mary Jo at the kitchen table, conversing with everyone on any subject (he seemed to always have seen the play or read the book before anyone), making everyone feel at home –and all while managing to take candid snapshots of his guests, pictures which we’d soon find in our inboxes in Cabell Hall.  He once told me his secret weapon was his little Olympus Stylus 35mm pocket camera –a camera so small he always had it with him.  I immediately bought one for myself (and I still have it, in fact).  Next come photos with writers, some of whom became friends:  there’s Isabel Allende, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Rosa Montero, Mempo Giardinelli with David and joyful Janna –pictures made possible in good measure by David’s work behind the scenes as department chair: extending invitations, securing funding, arranging schedules; in short:  using his boundless energy to bring people together and make things happen for everyone, as always.  There we are with Elena Poniatowska at the University of Richmond in the early 1990s; for Aurora and me, our first visit to the place we’ve called home now for over 20 years.

Cut to fall 2007:  we’re at a party at the home of Fernando Operé and Carrie Douglass, and David is showing us the medal he has just received for the Order of Isabel la Católica –only it’s not the actual medal, but a life-sized illuminated image held to his chest as if pinning it to his lapel:  it’s the first iPhone I’ve ever seen.


These days we all have cameras in our pockets; but for the life of me I can’t find the photo I have of David giving a wonderful inaugural lecture at the first annual Student Research Symposium of our newly minted Department of Latin American and Iberian Studies in 2009 (though I remember David’s friend, former UVa Dean of Arts and Sciences and then University of Richmond President Ed Ayers, sat in the front row).  No photo; but how to capture David’s efforts on behalf of so many colleagues and teachers and students at all levels of our profession over the years?  There’s not a big enough frame.

So thank you, David, for all you’ve done, whether before our eyes or out of view.  And here’s to some well deserved ‘selfie’ time for you and Janna –can’t wait to see the pics!