Jan 14th, 2016
Last week, my friend Nancy Abelmann died. I am feeling this loss keenly and have wanted to write about but for a while wasn’t sure what to say or how to say.
Nancy was my advisor in graduate school and the first person who made me feel that I was a scholar with something important to say. She was an incredibly generous scholar and mentor who spent countless hours helping me hone my grant proposals to the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, encouraged me during the dissertation-writing process (even after I moved far away), and was totally supportive of my decision not to finish my Ph.D. (and would have been equally supportive if I’d decided to complete it). As both a friend and a mentor, she was a huge influence in my life, and I’m sure I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t known her.
I last saw Nancy in person right before I moved to Pennsylvania about a decade and a half ago. We kept in touch, though, especially during the past four years as first Bill (my friend and one of my committee members, and one of Nancy’s closest friends) and then she were struck by cancer. This past fall, she did not have much energy for extensive communication, so we exchanged haiku.
She had been very forthcoming about her illness and treatment, sending out updates via e-mail and Caring Bridge, so this final event in her journey doesn’t really come as a surprise. One small consolation is that she knew how much she was loved: she was incredibly supported by local friends and family, and her far-flung connections, too, reached out with whatever support they could offer from afar. (One former student—and friend and former colleague of mine—even flew in from Korea for three days to be with her at the end.)
But it’s still hard to accept that she’s no longer here. She was (as many people have described her) “a force of nature,” and I’m sure she will be long (and fondly) remembered both professionally and personally.
It has been amazing to read the tributes about her over the past week, from all corners of the world—universities, former students, colleagues, academic units, publishers, neighbors, friends. She had a direct positive impact on so many people! She truly made the world a better place.
(This video was made by Nancy’s daughters and posted a few days ago.)