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April 18, 2002

In Memoriam: Hugh Davis Graham

A graduate of Yale and Stanford who served in both the Marine Corps and the Peace Corps, Hugh Davis Graham came to UMBC in 1971 as chair (and then, until 1977, dean) of the Social Sciences Division. Hugh's wife Janet was largely responsible for creating UMBC's highly successful International Teaching Assistant Program (ITAP).

Hugh was also professor of history and subsequently affiliate professor of policy sciences until 1991, when he became Holland N. McTyeire Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. Author or editor of more than a dozen books of striking quality and impressive range, Hugh was one of the most distinguished scholars of 20th-century American history. His most important book, The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Evolution of National Policy, 1960-1972, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

I knew Hugh from the beginning of my time at UMBC, since he was the dean who hired me in 1973. I still remember the penetrating questions he asked during my interview with him. From the first, I was impressed by the formidable power of his mind and by the remarkable breadth of his knowledge and talent--and by his insistence upon the highest levels of quality for UMBC and its faculty.

As dean of the social sciences, Hugh not only helped build faculty and program strength but also played a key role in the reorganization of UMBC that replaced the divisional structure in the late 1970s. He was president of the Faculty Senate, 1980 to 1981, and then dean for graduate studies and research from 1982 to 1985. In the latter position, again reorganizing his own deanship out of existence, he helped to effect the merger of graduate programs at UMB and UMBC that created the University of Maryland Graduate School Baltimore.

Hugh was widely known, on campus and off, for his dedication to UMBC achieving its potential as a research university. Sandra Herbert, professor of history, recalls how he "always kept UMBC's name before the Board of Regents." George LaNoue, professor of policy sciences, says that Hugh "was not only a distinguished scholar and fine teacher, but at a critical moment in UMBC's institutional life, he led the faculty to secure UMBC's research future. When the reorganization of the UM system took place under Governor Schaefer, there was the possibility that UMBC would be given the same essentially undergraduate mission as the former state teachers' colleges, now new members of the UM system. But Hugh, then dean of the Graduate School, was successful in advocating the two principal center concept, one at College Park and the other in Baltimore, that preserved UMBC's graduate/research mission." As Jim Mohr, then chair of the history department, said when Hugh left for Vanderbilt in 1991, his contributions were "virtually unequalled in the development of this institution."

Hugh always took a fierce pride in UMBC and its accomplishments, and remained deeply interested in the campus after his departure. His innovative and influential 1997 book, The Rise of American Research Universities: Elites and Challengers in the Postwar Era (co-authored with Nancy Diamond, his doctoral student in policy sciences) illuminated in national perspective the extraordinary productivity of UMBC faculty across the spectrum of academic disciplines and identified UMBC as one of the rising stars among public research universities.

Hugh was an extraordinary force, with enormous energy as well as talent. In the years when he was not serving in an administrative capacity, that became even more evident to us in the history department. I remember times when some of us would be having lunch in the lounge, and Hugh rushed in-perhaps spending a few minutes chatting, then turning with his usual intensity to either scholarly matters or university issues, eating while he talked and probed, and then hurrying off after some 20 to 30 minutes to exercise or get back to work. He wanted to do his absolute best at everything he did in his life--and as Sandra Herbert reminds me, no one could forget his wicked spike on the volleyball court.

For the last three books Hugh completed or began at UMBC--on federal education policy in the 1960s, on civil rights policy from 1960 to 1972, and on the new shape of higher education-he asked me to read and comment on the works in progress. Hugh was typically wise enough to ignore what I said, or to take it and make something better of my suggestions than I had seen; but this close-up view of his scholarship impressed upon me all the more just how hard, productively, and brilliantly he worked.

Beneath his intensity and his relentless quest for excellence, he was a warm, supportive, and steadfast friend--and with a sense of humor that made him laugh at funny things and often (whether zestfully or sardonically) at foolish ones as well. I remember especially well a wonderful dinner--in every respect--that my wife, Renate, and I had with Hugh and Janet in New Orleans a few years back.

Hugh and I were perhaps drawn together in some measure by things in common--Southern backgrounds and connections to Nashville and Vanderbilt; ties to Yale; experience in the service; a scholarly focus on twentieth-century US politics and policy; interest in UMBC policymaking--but his friends were diverse, and he was intensely loyal to all of them. He was also extremely supportive of his students, both at UMBC and Vanderbilt, finding ways for them not just to succeed but to get recognition for their work.

He was scarcely ever still, and his liveliness was intellectual as well as personal. He was an appropriate head of the old social sciences division because his work characteristically was interdisciplinary. His projects typically required him to digest and master--which he did astonishingly quickly and well--relevant literature in other fields, especially political science, the policy sciences, and education.

Some of the reasons he could so quickly master related fields, and new literature in history as well, are summed up advice he gave graduate students on how to get through a particularly formidable body of material: focus, work hard, and extract the essence.

And it was getting the essence of things that marked Hugh's life. He worked amazingly hard at everything he did, wasted no time that I could ever detect, and got absolutely the most from his scholarship, his teaching, his administrative work, his life. He had extraordinarily high standards, and held himself, his colleagues, his students, and his institutions to them. He faced a number of trials, from his son's tragic death to his cancer, with remarkable courage and grace and with a refusal to be defeated. Even while battling cancer, Hugh continued to work on numerous projects, from his book on immigration policy and affirmative action just published by Oxford University Press, to his leading role in challenging the Bush administration's effort to restrict access to White House papers, to helping to organize a conference on the Reagan presidency that convened just after he died.

Like everyone who knew Hugh, Art Pittenger, professor of mathematics and statistics, was inspired by the way he handled his cancer. "His determination and courage in battling cancer during the last several years enabled him to continue his remarkably productive career in spite of the effects of the disease and its treatment, and as his wife commented he was fully involved in living until the last few days of his life." And Art speaks for me and all of Hugh's UMBC friends in saying that "I missed him greatly when he left Baltimore and will miss him the more now."

I find it hard to imagine so vital and indomitable a man dead, hard to realize I won't hear his voice or read his e-mail telling me what he's doing, or entreating me to do some important thing he thinks I should attend to, or asking how I and my family are faring. I was fortunate, and honored, to know him these past three decades as a mentor, a colleague and a friend.

Posted by dwinds1 at April 18, 2002 12:00 AM