One of my best recollections of Rhys comes from his own academic home turf, Australia, at the 2000 meeting of ANZASA, the Australia-New Zealand American Studies Association, in Sydney. Rhys had recently retired, at least from his day job, and the night of the conference dinner turned into an extended Rhys-roast, not at all a solemn, scholarly event but a very funny, very beery display of serious affection and respect on the part of his ANZASA mates. Rhys loved it, and even though I can’t remember exactly what people said—it was ten years ago and, again, very beery—I do remember the way Rhys seemed so happy throughout the evening, throwing back his head to laugh with all the muscles of his face, his eyes as much as his mouth.
Luckily for us, he didn’t really retire from writing. The next time I saw him was a few years later, at the Newberry in Chicago, just after the publication of Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom. He gave a smart-as-usual, wry-as-usual talk, occasionally channeling Landon Carter’s Tidewater accent with a bit of twinkle-eyed theatrics. After the talk, he signed my copy of his book with the inscription to “a historian with heart & mind where it should be.” I actually thought that description applied more to him: if any historian could combine heart and mind into one “it,” could make us feel and think at the same time, could help us know and understand someone as cranky as Landon Carter and still be balanced, it was Rhys. I read him now, and I can still hear him then.