I was lucky enough to come into CHID at a time when there was a lot of energy in the program. I started as the undergraduate advisor in 2002, right when Jim and Erin and their students were coming home from the year-long study abroad program that travelled from Belfast to Cape Town to Cyprus. The group of students that returned to CHID from this trip were engaged and empowered and smart in a way that I had never seen before and haven’t really seen since. It was heady times.
And then Jim got sick. And that was so confusing. No one knew what to do with the fact that we were about to lose this man who seemed to epitomize everything that CHID stood for, who seemed to be its heart and soul. When Jim passed away in 2004, several people were predicting the demise of CHID. But it didn’t die. It grew stronger, and more vibrant. It stayed fun and innovative—two things that didn’t seem possible in a world without Jim Clowes.
In the wake of all this change, I ended up as the Assistant Director of CHID, which meant I got to work directly with John. And I am so much the better for this experience. Because I learned that it was John’s leadership that enabled Jim to become the amazing teacher and visionary that he was. I began to realize that it was John who was the heart and soul of CHID. This MacArthur Genius who was an internationally recognized scholar who asked undergraduate students to call him by his first name. Whose Mennonite upbringing provided the ethic of care that infused CHID’s pedagogy. Whose humility allowed him to step back so that others could shine. A generous man who used his power and prestige to provide a protective cocoon in which graduate students, undergraduate students, staff, non-tenured faculty, and junior faculty could grow into their own potential. A full professor who modeled a nonhierarchical leadership style that empowered everyone around him.
For those of us who are used to working with John, it is difficult to grasp exactly how special he is, because he makes it all seem so normal. Hosting potlucks at his house that may have wound up with students in his hot tub. Cooking meals for the CHID staff, and getting us all tipsy on his Manhattans. Eating lunch with whoever was around in the CHID office. Generously agreeing to advise the thesis of every undergraduate student who asked him to. Participating in goofy photo shoots on the quad. All of these things make it easy to think that John is normal.
Because he’s not. He’s extraordinary. And I know that I have been changed in a million wonderful ways by getting to observe his leadership style and interactions with others. And I know that you all have been changed by it, too. So thank you, John, for everything you have done for me and for everyone who ever came into contact with CHID.