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I’m very sad to hear that a friend and colleague, geographer and Africanist Glen Elder, has passed away following a heart attack. Glen was a warmhearted, passionate scholar, former chair of Geography and current Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Vermont. He had just given a captivating performance as master of ceremonies of the Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony this past Sunday.

My deepest condolences to all affected, especially Glen’s partner Mick. Our memories of Glen will continue to be inspired by his warmth, insight, passion, expansive worldview, and dedicated teaching and leadership.

Here’s Glen’s web site and UVM Provost John Hughes’ words about Glen’s death. Also, my friend Reese Hersey has kindly shared the following reflection about Glen, originally given at Glen’s UVM Dean’s Lecture on November 4, 2005:


As a graduate student teaching fellow, watching Glen

Elder sweep into a classroom without a note in sight

and then effortlessly and engagingly spin out often

spellbinding lectures was the first eye-opener. This

immersion in the tension between being prepared and

being overly reliant upon notes and props and a

scripted monologue became, for me, the first and best

model of what teaching should be: Know your stuff,

have all your props lined up, and then go at it.

That “go” contains the grace which can follow, when a

teacher trusts their own knowledge and instincts

enough to allow classes to be open-ended, frequently

student-interest shaped and unpredictably and

positively alive.

My singular favorite moment as Glen Elder’s teaching

assistant came in the middle of a “Where do your

clothes come from?” in-class exercise in Intro to

World Geography. We, and 108 or so students, were in

the deck-of-the-Enterprise-like Old Mill lecturehall.

To tangibly demonstrate Third World-exploitative,

“nimble fingers” economic geographies, Glen had asked

students to inspect each other’s clothing tags and

then call out where the garments were made. The

predictable suspects were coming in: Mexico,

Guatemala, Indonesia, el Salvador, Jakarta. (This

was before almost every one of these very same

garments would say China China China.) I was at the

board transcribing these place names as fast as I

could (in my wool vest from Johnson, Vermont).

Suddenly, someone said: “Milan.” Glen snapped to

full alert: “Milan? Who’s wearing something from

Milan?” A young woman sheepishly raised her hand.

“It’s my pants,” she said. “Well then: on the

catwalk, sister!” snapped Professor Elder. All heads

turned, imaginary spotlights flooded toward the woman

and Frankie Goes to Hollywood pumped onto our psychic

soundtracks. In this moment – suffused as it was

with humor, erudition, pop culture, self-revelation,

and the little bit of camp relished by the wisest of

men – the art of teaching opened wide before me.

It is probably also worth noting that, during my

short stint in grad school, and while managing all of

this classroom adeptness, Glen was simultaneously

shepherding four of our Master’s theses from vapors

to bound artifacts. One was a largely quantitative

look at recycling in the United States, particularly

within the recycling-savvy Pacific Northwest.

Another was an investigation into a defunct, 19th

century, immigrant-founded, Midwestern Utopian

religious community (with intriguingly anomalous

gender-bending moments). Another was on image versus

substance in Public Housing projects around Hartford,

Connecticut. And mine was a sort of philosophical

tea party between Gary Snyder’s Bioregionalist ideas

and Yi-Fu Tuan’s lovely Humanistic Geography. Every

one of us finished and successfully defended our work

- no small feat for a passel of twenty- and

thirty-something grad students. As dizzying an array

of dissimilar balls to keep in the air as this was,

Glen was also simultaneously conducting his own

classes; reediting his dissertation; publishing

articles; devoting a great many hours to

VermontCARES; and – oh – cooking up a little study

subgroup (on “Space and Sexuality” if I’m remembering

its title correctly) within the venerable Association

of American Geographers. None of these things

impinged upon our individual senses of having Glen’s

full attention (and organizational elan) around our

work. His strategizing, prompting, encouragement,

promised post-Defense “Hamfests” in Derby Line and

gentle cut-the-whining; do-your-work honesty got all

four of us through, I believe.

I know I was not alone in appreciating Glen’s poise,

articulateness and embodiment of the unflappably

engaged scholar-citizen and HUMAN BEING. With Glen,

one firstly, unavoidably notices his great poise

(academic, organizational, and sartorial) but then,

also, the deeper, subtler underpinning of compassion

that all of that poise serves. And I know that we

are still out here now – teachers, urban planners,

geography professors, city councilors, Study Abroad

administrators, stay-at-home moms, Ph.D. candidates -

directly adapting some of Glen’s moves and motives to

our own works, still trying to make our learning and

lives get on the catwalk.

- Reese Hersey

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