Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943

Uncommon Sense

The following is from the Uncommon Sense archives. It first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2011 issue, no. 129.

From the Director’s Desk

Director's DeskThe news of Rhys Isaac’s death on October 6, 2010, reached me early on the following morning in Vancouver, B.C., where the Institute and the history department of the university were about to convene the Age of Sail conference organized and chaired by Danny Vickers. Although I had, like many of you, known that Rhys was very ill, with a less than hopeful prognosis, I was unprepared for the swift finality with which his life ended. Danny opened the conference that morning with an announcement of our great loss and asked for a moment of silent remembrance from those gathered there. We then proceeded with the sessions, but each of us knew in our heart of hearts that business as usual had forever been changed, and throughout the meeting, various program participants began their remarks with tributes to Rhys and what he had meant to the profession and to them personally.

As will quickly become apparent, the content of this issue of Uncommon Sense extends remembering Rhys across the entire spectrum of the history and culture of early America. The invitation by the editors to write about the man so widely loved and learned from yielded the wonderful outpouring of affection and appreciation that fills so many of these pages. Small of frame and great of heart, Rhys has left an indelible mark on our scholarship and on our selves. All of us are more sensitive, generous scholars, teachers, readers, and human beings for having had the privilege of sharing at whatever level the keenness of his intellect, the kindness of his interest, the warmth of his personality, and the delight of his humor.

Lest this begins to sound like a paean to St. Rhys, let me recall that there was a testy side to his personality, too, and a competitiveness that produced astute, even sharp critiques of scholarly work with which he disagreed. I personally experienced the critical consequences of having Rhys focus his keen analytical mind on a piece I considered one of the best things I had ever written. We never resolved our differences on that and some other matters of perspective and interpretation, but whatever the disagreement, it never interfered with Rhys’s unfailing ability to see and affirm the intrinsic value of the human being putting forth those ideas. That quality, along with his lack of pretension and his wonderful enthusiasm for young scholars, enriched us all and accounts for the joy we shared in his presence and the acute sense of loss his absence has brought us.

Ron Hoffman