A few remembrances of Emily

I think we lost Emily yesterday.

She had left the university here to start a new position in Utah, something she was very excited to do. She kept us up to date on her office color (the school painted it purple? at her request) her award of tenure, a lifetime position of academic freedom, a connection to the health research center where she could focus her research on communications.

Lael and I had met Emily on the shuttle to the airport for a flight to Rome a few years ago. We had both been assigned to teach on the study abroad program in Castiglion Fiorentino that spring. Lael had known her from the TAMU Womens Club but the ride to the airport was my first meeting with her.

Landing in Italy, gathering up the students from her department and mine, in the process of finding the bus in the hubub that is the airport, and loading up to for the long ride to Santa Chiara, I could tell she was capable, organized and anxious to begin the adventure.

We arrived at around 10 or 11 I think, and the team at the center had organized check-in, and a tour of the town to keep us awake and help us get onto the right time zone. It was late winter, early spring in central Italy, cold, windy, rainy and the Texas students didn’t quite seem equipped, flip flops, shorts, tee shirts and sweatshirts, not much raingear, not many umbrellas, and not many warm coats. I remember Emily telling us about her first class where some of the students were expressing their discomfort with the weather and temperature in the building, her response was what has become a classic Emily for me, she said after hearing the complaints from the students, her words were “WEAR PANTS.”

That was Emily, clear logic, clear message, clear delivery. She attributed that to her childhood growing up on the farm, I believe it, not many farmers I know blather on about things (Jibber-Jabber she called it) The center was unique in that the faculty lived in the same building as the students, and from time to time, their blowing off steam would wake us all, as we’d stumble out to see what the commotion was she’d cast a steely-eyed glance the the “Wisenheimers” that would wither them in their steps but forgive their youthfulness quickly and re-engage them to find a lesson in the situation.

She was also remarkably open to the world, traveling wide eyed like all of us, encountering history, culture, vibrant life, while seeking out chocolate, or gelato, or the best pesto pasta. She never feared poking fun at herself, and never poked fun at others.

Emily was intensely proud of her students, undergraduates, graduates, and especially her doctoral student. She would go on and on about her, the work they had done for DNA Day here at TAMU, how happy she as to be at G’s wedding, like a proud parent, thats how I know she truly had to soul of a teacher.

She was fierce too. We had a situation between students that was very very serious. I could see her flare in an instinct to protect, and then almost instantly, become professional as we both sought out procedure to get care for the student, protect the student, and ultimately sit with the other involved party and relay the university’s requirements and next steps. In those difficult conversations, I saw her morality, her commitment to do the right thing, in the right way, regardless of the difficulty. I think you learn a lot about people during a crisis, some cover themselves, some turn to face the issue while covering others. That was Emily.

So when I fell ill before a planned carnival weekend for Lael, it was Emily I trusted to travel with the one who holds my heart. I could rest easy knowing they were together, two super competent, super capable women, they returned with great stories, great images and a strong friendship that makes us weep as we mourn the loss of Emily today. Mourning will go on for a long time I’m afraid. I think anyone who met Emily feels this loss today, and will miss her forever.

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