UVA Networks of Enlightenment

By Cynthia Wall

In October 2003, David and I started the university-wide XVIII Study Group, bringing faculty (from Architecture, American Studies, Art and Art History, English, French, German, History, Italian, Music, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Spanish, and the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies) together once a semester to share current work in the eighteenth century. Or rather, the eighteenth centuries–since that collaboration produced a wonderful two-day seminar in March 2013 for our tenth anniversary, and a book we co-edited from that seminar, The Eighteenth Centuries: Global Networks of Enlightenment, published January 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. For the Study Group, we had two firm rules: (1) NO HOMEWORK, and (2), PLENTY OF WINE. David has always been a joy as a colleague, his unbounded energy and optimism contagious, lifting all our spirits. David and Janna frequently hosted my partner Paul Hunter and me, plying us with food and drink as David and I scribbled notes at their kitchen table and Paul and Janna added wit and wisdom. David, I will deeply miss you as a colleague, but Paul and I both plan to delight in the friendship of you and Janna for aeons to come. –Much love from Cindy and Pablo!

Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier, A Reading in the Salon of Mme Geoffrin, 1755

How do we know David Gies? Let me count the ways…

By Wynne Stuart

How do we know David Gies? Let me count the ways . . .

I started writing something linear and boring — but David Gies and is his life are neither.

So. . .

WHERE would we be without Tinto and Tapas, Great stories from the family, the pets, the World and Semester at Sea, Very happy times of food, wine, and discovery at the Paramount and with Cavalier Travels?

David Gies: Always an engaged, inspired, and inspiring teacher. Curiosity, exuberance, intelligence, attention to detail, caring, joy.

Because of him, Vicki and Wynne love Spain and the warmth of the culture and will continue our Spain / France banter, as only he can incite!

WHERE would we be without Janna with David, as they travel forward together in their adventures?

Fierce and Passionate Crusader for Libraries

By Karin Wittenborg

An homage to David Gies

It has been a singular pleasure to read all the accolades from David’s colleagues, friends, and students. What an impressive roster of credentials, achievements, and awards. Frankly, he makes a normal person look like a total slacker.

I know David in a different arena and I had hoped to surprise you with reports of one of his extracurricular activities. Alas, John Portman has already scooped me by mentioning in his tribute that David recruited him to the Library Advisory Committee.

David Gies loves libraries, especially the UVA Libraries. He is an ardent advocate and supporter, who embraces new ideas and practices, and is vocal in his appreciation of the library staff — especially of Miguel Valladares-Llata, Librarian for Romance Languages and Latin America Studies.

Since I retired at the end of 2014, I cannot vouch first hand for David’s campaign to restore the library link on the University’s home page, but it is totally characteristic of David’s attention to the things that matter and his commitment to making change happen. I have been told that sometime after my retirement, a redesign of the homepage omitted the libraries — and that David was outraged.

In typical David fashion, he sprang into action and organized a cohort of like-minded faculty and students who insisted that the libraries be reinstated on the home page — and they were in short order. I suppose that story could be apocryphal, but I believe that David was the fierce and passionate crusader who brought the libraries back to the center of the University — just as Jefferson had planned from the very beginning. We all shall be forever in his debt.

No one will be surprised when I say that David is a genuine bon vivant. He is a party waiting to happen.

I had the good fortune recently to join a UVA alumni travel plan to Portugal and Spain guided with great panache by David. At every turn, in addition to learning about history, culture, and architecture, David would also tell us about the local culinary treasures and lead us into incredible restaurants and cafes. He is just as knowledgeable about street food as he is about Michelin restaurants.

Part of David’s charm is that he is not a food or wine snob. He will effusively thank a guest who brings an expensive wine to dinner and he will appreciate every swallow. A few months later, he may tell you about a $7.99 bottle of red from Kroger that is very pleasing to the palate.

My greatest regret is that I was never was able to go on Semester at Sea with David and Janna.

To me, Janna and David are a magical couple. They complement each other and share the same adventurous spirit. They are always in motion, attending concerts, plays, and other performances locally and internationally. I can’t recall going to an event in Charlottesville where I didn’t encounter them — and learn about the next big thing.

With great appreciation,
Karin Wittenborg
University Librarian Emerita

David’s Teaching Saves Lives

By Dan Ortiz

For over a decade, I have sat along with 12 graduate and law students at David’s feet. And what an experience it has been! Each year David and I have taught a five-session seminar in ethical values to a group coming from all parts of the University. Spanish and Law naturally, but also Art History, English, Architecture, German, Physics, History, and others. We’ve discussed film exclusively and each year we’ve focused on a particular theme (from food to the ethics of murder), director (from Almodovar to Hitchcock), or part of the world.

I’ve been mostly a free rider. How could I not? I’ve never owned a TV and see few current films. (People know better than to let me out.) But David happily took the lead. He would invariably become enthused about a topic, quickly view and narrow down a bunch of films, most of which I had never heard of, let alone seen, and throw together a syllabus—all before I had time to consult Wikipedia for ideas. All I had to do was cajole a few law students to join the fun, watch the films myself, and bring food and wine. To anyone who knows David, bringing the wine was the most important of my responsibilities. From the way it lubricated his thinking, I think I did well.

David opened our eyes to film and teaching. Where before we saw stories (or in graduate-speak “narratives”), we quickly came to detect irony, doubt, and complexity. In short, David slyly led us into the post-modern condition. And we had much fun getting there. We law geeks entered the class as logical, rigorously linear, left-side thinkers and left more generous, broad-minded, and forgiving people. The students adored him, of course, and—teaching being a two-way street—opened him up to new experiences, like lunch at Chipotle, where the much-celebrated Hispanist and gourmand had never eaten.

About that title? Yep, it’s true. David’s teaching really did save lives or at least one—my own. It’s not that he expanded my thinking so that I could value things and life in ways impossible before. He did that, of course. I’m talking about something much more concrete. In the last meeting of “The Ethics of Murder,” we were discussing Hitchcock’s “The Birds” over one of David’s wonderful paella dinners. We had not yet reached the pièce de résistance, his Baked Alaska, which every year reliably turned students’ heads. I asked the students whether the film could be read as the revenge of nature itself (climate change, anyone?) or of human nature and whether the birds ultimately won. While waiting for a response, I took a too-large bite of paella and found I couldn’t breathe. I tried to drink a little water. Still, no air.

The student who was answering the question finished and quizzically looked at me for a reaction. But I couldn’t speak. All I could do was turn to David and whisper “Heimlich!” He knew exactly what to do, ran behind me, planted his two hard fists right below my chest, and pumped alarmingly away. A few seconds later, a piece of food spectacularly flew out across the room, the class gasped in surprise and appreciation, and I started breathing again. Luckily, my dramatic distress and David’s quick reaction not only brought the class alive but was also a great “teaching moment.” It offered one answer to the very question we were discussing: did the birds win? I had choked, I pointed out, on a big hunk of chicken.


David Gies star of short film “Be Deaf Be Dead”

By Karen Van Lengen

David Gies offered to act in a short film that 3rd grader Kiri Van Lengen-Welty made with her teacher John Hunter, Venable Elementary School, (from the World Peace Game fame) in 2003. The film was developed out of a year-long independent project that Kiri took on underJohn’s guidance and our assistance.

The film is based on a study of Hitchcock films that Kiri undertook, then wrote a script for a new short “hitchcockian” film.

The film Title: Be Deaf Be Dead

Plot: It is feared that Terrorists might blow up the Rotunda- so FBI Agent Prezik (David) is hot on the trail of several music students who he suspects are involved in the plot. The title BE DEAF BE DEAD comes from the actual musical notes that are played by a terrorist in her recital at old Cabell Hall in order to send a code to someone in the audience, who will find his instructions from a book of that title, housed in the Rotunda Library.  He does uncover the plot just in time to save the Rotunda and arrest the real terrorists.

In Praise of David

By John Portmann

In my years at UVa, David has emerged as one of the most fun –if not the most—academics I have met. He’s not just all grace and charm: he is a person of moral courage as well.

I met David through Janna.

My friend Jeff Miller, a Ph.D. student in history, kept telling me that he enjoyed reviewing books for the Virginia Quarterly Review. One day I got around to accompanying him to the VQR office, where Janna was hard at work (and that’s another story!). I liked her immediately and starting stopping by the VQR regularly. I looked forward to chatting with Janna even more than looking through the pile of books available for review.

One day I informed Janna that I had received an offer to teach bioethics at the Cleveland Clinic; I was struggling with the question of what to do. Imagine my surprise when Janna informed me that she had not only lived in Cleveland for years but also in a very small town in Pennsylvania ten minutes away from the small town in which I had grown up. Here was a woman who could understand me. She warned me against the gray weather in Cleveland, and I stayed in Charlottesville.

She told me about her past and her new husband, a guy named David who taught in Spanish. She was surprised that I did not know him. She told me all about the storybook courtship (he had swept her off her feet) and shared with me the pictures.

Then one day he showed up at the VQR, and I met David.

I was working in the Office of the Provost at the time, and we were all preparing for a big event President Casteen had been planning for ages: Virginia 2020. The idea was to try to project from where we were in 2000 what UVa would look like in the year 2020. What were our goals? Where did we want to be? Once the actual summit occurred, I had to choose from a number of competing sessions led by faculty facilitators previously appointed by the President’s Office. I chose David’s, thinking it would be the most fun.
I remember clearly what happened at this session: About thirty or thirty-five people sat in a circle, with David at the head. He asked us what we hoped for in UVa’s future. One woman identified herself as a professor in the nursing school and responded that she hoped women students would be treated as the equals of men in 2020. She added that she regretted her own college experience, when male professors would habitually favor men over women in class discussions. Silence, David asked in a sympathetic tone whether she thought women were under-privileged at UVa today, and the woman paused dramatically. When she began to respond, David briskly cut her off, “Oh, who really cares what you think? Let’s hear from someone else, someone interesting.”

For a split second I worried that David had lost his mind. The stupefied woman gaped at David, and, unable to control myself, I burst out laughing. I realized that David was joking, joking in a risky way. When the entire room next erupted in smiles and nods, I understood that David was a real character.

I liked David more and more and occasionally chided him for not teaching Catholicism. He loved Spain with a passion and wanted his department to be the best in the entire country. He agreed that Catholicism was an integral part of Spanish culture but didn’t seem the least bit inclined to add this subject to his department’s course offerings.

He did, however, agree to visit my “Cultural Catholicism” seminar in Spring 2005. It was one of the most animated groups I’ve had at UVa; we met in the luminous space of the Jefferson Debating Society (on the Range, very close to Janna’s office). Spain was voting on gay marriage in 2005, and the American media were following the polls closely. The pope himself visited Spain and pleaded with the people, his people, not to vote for it (they did). David won over my seminar with his easy intelligence, and at least one of my students asked him to be his academic advisor that day (Chad O’Hara).

I continued to get to know David and Janna better. I never exploited my friendship with the CLAS’s most popular boy until Karin Wittenborg in 2014 asked me to chair the University Library Committee, which had been a pretty lifeless group. I leaned on David to join, and once he agreed, I was ready to contact several in-demand professors and ask, “David Gies is on this committee, won’t you join it?” Each signed up.

In 2016 David and I were recruited to join the search committee for the new Dean of the University Libraries. Lots of meetings. David flavored the many routine steps with his puckish wit.

Nothing moved me more deeply, in retrospect, than something David observed in January 2018. I had just returned from five weeks in Italy, and he invited me to his condo for lunch – just the two of us. We discussed his imminent retirement and I asked how he felt about his closing career. His answer surprised me: he had been disappointed by academics — most of them are cowards, he lamented. Instantly I admired him more than ever before. Not only because he was right, but because I grasped that he is not.

Teaching Awards Banquet, April 2013 (picture below)

Somehow you figured it all out!

By Bob and Maria Chapel

Dear David,

Well I could have waxed a tiny bit sarcastic, as you did about me when you spoke at my retirement party, and asked you what sort of racket you ran to somehow teach less than you traveled over these past number of years (and still pulled down your regular enormous salary) or how you managed the multitude of voyages you and Janna took as UVA’s MISTER SEMESTER AT SEA or WHAT kindled your never-ending happy and positive spirit that made the rest of us look and feel like boring dips and dolts – but I won’t mention any of these things.   They would make me look like Mr. Sour Grapes!

BECAUSE you somehow figured it all out – how to become a true scholar, a true lover of life, a tremendous diplomat for the University of Virginia, an oh so generous philanthropist (I thank you and Heritage thanks you), and one who contributed so very much to not only our school but to the Spanish speaking world and language as well, and, with Janna, a superb and gracious host. AND, to top all of this off, you have, over the years been one of my closest theatre buddies and co-lover of Mr. Sondheim.

Thank you for all your excellent professional advice you have given to me.

Thank you for introducing Maria and me to Central and South America that catapulted us to have the opportunity to go around the world — on a ship no less – something I never thought I would ever do.

Thank you for singing “Leave You” better than I’ve ever heard it sung

But most of all, thank you for just being a GREAT friend and a lot of fun!

We wish you many many days of productivity and enjoyment in your retirement, as we know you really will never ever stop DOING.

We love you and Janna dearly,

Bob and Maria Chapel

Olé, Olé, Olé !

By Jim Cooper and Shamim Sisson

Congratulations, David! What a wonderful occasion to honor you and your remarkable career, surrounded by so many whose lives you have influenced and enriched…we are honored to be among your admirers at this milestone event.

Taking this opportunity to reminisce about our associations with you over the last 30 years, Shamim recalls the challenging work of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society review, your and Janna’s longstanding advocacy for the Women’s Center, and your always being a key faculty ally to Student Affairs. Jim remembers your steadfast interest in education, your support for teaching as a profession, and your work with experienced teachers at the Center for Liberal Arts with Hal Kolb, even when…perhaps especially when…this was above and beyond your own professional endeavors.   He also remembers your loyalty and attendance at so many of U.Va.’s athletic events…no, wait…what???

We share an appreciation for the amazing and critical leadership you provided to Semester at Sea, watching as you helped faculty members move from intransigent opposition to full participation and enthusiasm. In ways invisible to most of us, you understood and cultivated the many factions and personalities within both the Institute for Shipboard Education and the University, resulting in a memorable and successful decade under University of Virginia sponsorship. As voyagers on two fall semesters (2009 & 2012), we are eternally grateful!

The seminal leadership and unselfish commitment to service you have given the University have been informed by your inquisitive mind, being open to listening to others and to examining multiple options before making decisions. David, you have always heeded the internal compass of your convictions, beliefs, and goals to ask, “What truly matters?” Colleagues know this about you and, as a result, trust your judgments and decisions.

Beyond stellar teaching and scholarship, you are a citizen of the University in the truest form.  We have respected your service to your department, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Faculty Senate, but also your ability to reach across traditional lines on behalf of the greater purposes of the University of Virginia. The University recognized these contributions in 2000, and we both remember your shocked expression when it was announced that you had received the Jefferson Award, so richly deserved! This impressive civic-consciousness extends to the Charlottesville/Albemarle community, with your and Janna’s tender care of the Paramount and steadfast support for Democratic candidates as only two examples.

We know that you have been honored by the Spanish government and numerous other professional recognitions making you officially an emissary of Spain and Spanish language and culture. But we have been the beneficiaries of your informal ambassadorship. Your introduction to Vanessa Guibert Heitner of Limitless Argentina opened whole new ways of travel to us and resulted in one of our most memorable adventures ever.  From insider info on great flamenco in Seville to more recent intelligence about Barcelona, you have been unfailingly generous in sharing your knowledge, experiences, and associations.

On a more personal level, we have always appreciated your quick wit, good humor, genuine interest in others, and conversation that never lags.  You and Janna are a brilliant team and we know that this new chapter will continue to be rich and filled with as exciting endeavors as ever…maybe now just a bit more on the schedule you two can choose. We look forward to sharing many fun times in the years to come. But just now, savor this beautiful time of celebration for you and your extraordinary life’s work.

With every best wish, Jim and Shamim

David the Sailor

By Julian Conolly

David is not only a distinguished scholar and a dedicated teacher, he’s one helluva sailor too. (Even before the Semester at Sea days!)

Julian W. Connolly, Professor
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures
University of Virginia

Homage to Honorable David Gies, and, of course, to the lovely Janna

From David Breneman and Donna Plasket

Donna and I have cherished our friendship with David and Janna, which dates back to our arrival at UVA in 1995.  Although we were in different parts of the University, we became good friends rapidly, as David has a way of seeking people out and befriending them.

He helped Donna immensely in the early days of establishing the Bachelor in Interdisciplinary Studies program, helping to bridge the potential divide with the College.  He also became the champion of Semester at Sea, and invited us to serve as faculty on the Fall 2010 trip, an enormous pleasure and privilege.

We also traveled together for a week in our favorite city, Barcelona and environs, introducing us to the finest restaurants, sights, wines, museums, wines, nearby small towns, and wines.

His love of pictures of himself with celebrities has given us numerous opportunities to chide him for his strange compulsion.  In a short three-day visit to The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, FL, he managed to get himself in more pictures with celebrity speakers than we have in our more than three years here.

We have loved following the movement of David and Janna from one house to their now fabulous apartment, and their enthusiasm for the Paramount Theater.  We also appreciated his faculty leadership on behalf of Terry Sullivan when she was being attacked by the Board of Trustees.  And without David’s leadership of the Faculty Club, that organization would not have invested in such fine wines. (Does a theme begin to emerge?).  A man of wines, travel, the arts, and celebrities, not to mention his superb scholarship, which is beyond our ken, so will leave comments on that area to others.

We are delighted that the four of us will move toward retirement together so that we may continue to enjoy many lovely and lively times and wines together.

David and Donna                                                                                        January 2018