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January 12, 2004

Tribute by President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III

January 10, 2004
Albin O. Kuhn Library, UMBC

When I first heard the sad news from John Jeffries about our friend and colleague, Joe Arnold, I immediately called Mary Jane, not as President, but simply as their friend. I was so devastated that I needed to let her and the family know what a special member of this community Joe was. And as Mary Jane has said so eloquently in her remembrance of Joe in the memorial service program, he was a blessing to all of us.

It is not simply fitting that we would have this service in the library, but it is an honor as a university that the family would want to have it here because of all that Joe has done as part of the founding faculty group at UMBC. For so many years, it was here that many of us enjoyed waving to Joe or stopping to say hello as he did his research on Baltimore and Maryland, often plowing through old Sun paper articles. Invariably, each time I stopped to see him, he had an interesting anecdote, and as he talked about Baltimore from other centuries, his enthusiastic storytelling brought the situation to life. For that moment, I was back in time. He had the ability to teach substantive lessons in just a few minutes, even in informal settings. As President, I've often used those lessons in my conversations with visitors to campus, especially prospective donors, and have been grateful to Joe for teaching me so much about the history of Baltimore and the State. In fact, as some of you know, hanging on the wall right outside my office is a framed poster of the cover of Joe's book, Maryland: Old Line to New Prosperity, which is a regular topic of conversation with visitors to campus.

He was such a source of knowledge. In fact, I often called him for advice when I was preparing to talk to various groups in Maryland, especially when I wanted to use an historical example to emphasize the importance of leadership in addressing issues and developing public policies. Recently, for example, I spoke at Leadership Maryland's tenth anniversary celebration and used the powerful example Joe provided about the history of the B&O Railroad's development in Maryland 150 years ago, involving laying rails across the Alleghany Mountains and linking Baltimore to the nation westward.

The lesson he taught me - and the lesson I've passed on to others - is that Maryland leaders in the mid-1800s had the vision and courage to work together to infuse new life into the State's declining economy; to merge technological and organizational triumphs; to bring public and private interests together; to unite regions of the State in a common purpose; and to bring worldwide attention to the State. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of elected and corporate leaders who are now referring to that story as we talk about the challenges we face, including the Inter-County Connector transportation issue.

Joe has been in many ways a visible symbol of the importance of social science research, not just on our campus and not simply for purposes of promotion, tenure, and prestige, but because it is so fundamentally important to our understanding who we are as a society and as individuals.

He was constantly helping me in both professional and personal ways. Through his unforgettable smile, the look in his eyes, and a few carefully considered words, he could communicate so much of substance. He was a wonderful counselor, and during difficult times on this campus, he quietly came to see me or stopped to talk to me. He might suggest an approach to solving a problem or how I might work with different groups on campus. Whether he was telling me he thought I was on the wrong track or that I was doing the right thing, he had the incredible capacity - through his smile and language - to suggest that things would work out.

He also was an effective advocate for the library. I will never forget our conversations and his letters about the need for supporting the library, and the need for me, as President, to show in visible ways - not just through words - that we understand the fundamental importance of the library, notwithstanding all of its technology, as the intellectual heart of the university.

Finally, I will always remember our recent conversation in December, right before the holidays. It was clear that he was feeling good about the work that he had done and excited about the research to come. I thought to myself how fortunate he was to have such passion for his work. He did for me that day what he had done for so many of us over and over again: he elevated my spirits. I was feeling tired and somewhat cynical, and he smiled, sat, and we talked about the UMBC of yesterday, where we are today, and his profound belief in our future. By the time he left my office, I was reminded why I enjoy coming to this place each day. Throughout the holidays, I thought about the lessons he has taught me, and the messages he has given us over the years. I now find myself continuing to think about Joe and about how fragile life is. As I said to him the last time I saw him, he will always be a part of this university.

Joe was truly gifted in his ability to connect with us as a human being and to inspire us as a scholar. He showed us in concrete ways how important our history is to our present and future, and how important it is constantly to be seeking to know more. He would appreciate the words of Olive Schreiner, a 19th-century social and political activist in South Africa.

May you seek after truth. If anything I teach you be false, may you throw it from you and go on to richer knowledge and deeper truth than I have ever known.

If you become a man of thought and learning, may you never fail to tear down with your right hand what your left hand has built up if, through years of thought and study, you see it at least not to be founded on that which is.

If you become an artist, may you never paint with pen or brush any picture of eternal life otherwise than as you see it.

If you become a politician, may no success for your party or even love of your nation ever lead you to tamper with reality…

In all of your circumstances, my child, may you seek after truth; and cling to that as a drowning man in a stormy sea who flings himself on a plank and clings to it, knowing that whether he sinks or swims with it, it is the best that he has.

Die poor, unknown, a failure - but shut your eyes to nothing that seems to them to be the truth.

Posted by dwinds1 at January 12, 2004 12:00 AM