JAN 24, 1944-JAN 28, 2010


About 175 colleagues and students gathered to say goodbye to Al on February 3rd in Newark Valley, NY, his longtime home.  Ray Newell, Al’s college roommate at Dartmouth and long-time collaborator in archaeological investigations, came from the Netherlands. Richard Stern, one of Al’s first PhD students, came from Anchorage.  It seems like only yesterday when Richard defended his dissertation in 1979 and when I met Ray in Barrow in 1981.

All of Al’s children – Kelly, Kerry, Kirsten and Al III – were there with Al’s multitude of grandchildren.  The kids were philosophical and not as prone to tears at the memorial service as some of us were.  Kirsten introduced herself to me and said,  “I’m the one that killed your gerbil.”  Alas, she was not the best caretaker when Tim and I left Buck in her charge during the summer of 1981. But she is a fine young woman now with a wonderful family. 

Beth Turcy Kilmarx and Jake Kilmarx did the lion’s share of work, feeding and comforting us, putting people up for the night, coordinating with the funeral home and with the family.  Their selflessness, kindness and strength are hard to put into words. 

I felt like a member of the “Alaska Old Guard” with Richard and other AK friend, Julie Steele, both of whom were Al’s students in the 1970s/early 80s.  Others from the Utqiagvik crowd who made it included Jon and Anne Lothrop, Chris and Mary Margaret Polglase, Dan Cassedy and his lovely wife (who’s name I don’t recall), and the Kilmarxes.. SUNY students from “the dream time” included Sue Prezzano, Nina Versaggi and Ed Curtain. 

Albie spoke poignantly about his Dad.  He did Al proud.  And Jake gave an emotional eulogy.  To paraphrase – “Al was my best friend; but he was your best friend, too.”  Speaking of Al’s generosity, Jake echoed Al’s words” “What do you want for dinner? I’m cooking chicken AND ham!”  His acts of generosity went beyond a free meal.  Tim and I were married in Al and Ruth’s house in 1980-and it was his idea! A night at Al’s was not just a bed; it was an invitation to lively conversation lasting well into the night. There were countless other generosities bestowed on “the tribe” throughout the years.

This is how it is:  we were all his friends, not just “colleagues and students.”  Al tended to follow his flock and extend the hand of friendship long after graduation.  I graduated in 1993 (my diploma actually says 1994-who knew?), but my last e-mail from him was this past December 19th. 

Driving up to Binghamton, I couldn’t help but about think about a couple of movies. The first was The Big Chill. How could you NOT think of it? And the second was the original Star Wars movie.  Princess Leia’s home planet is exterminated by the evil Empire (that’s the Empire of Evil, for your Republicans).  In another part of the galaxy, Obi Wan Kenobi suddenly staggers and says, “I felt a great disruption in the Force, as if a million people cried out.”   Doesn’t that hit home?

I think Al would pooh-pooh the grieving, but of course none of us can NOT grieve.  It is too great a loss. AND, it’s too big a loss to shoulder alone. Hence, the promises of staying in better touch, and the hugging and bonding (or rebonding) that took place last week.  I think Al would want us to lick our wounds and carry on.  “Do the best you can do!” he’d order in his booming voice. And because Al had confidence in us, I know that we will.  It was a privilege to be his student and his friend. I will cherish our friendship the rest of my life and, yes, I will strive for excellence because that’s the perfect memorial to this remarkable man.