Greg Finnegan on Gretchen Walsh

A group as small and cohesive as the ALC is one where everyone knows and relies upon everyone else. A few people loom especially large, however, in terms of energy, commitment, creative imagination; ability to follow through and, not least, good sense. A good sense of humor helps a lot, too. Gretchen Walsh was one of our strongest members in every one of these characteristics. Her unexpected loss leaves us without someone we counted on to not merely provide, and stimulate, good ideas, but who would ensure that needs were met and actions taken.

Writing this (with a deadline nearly upon me) reminds me I have an e-mail message from Gretchen from May 1st, reminding me and two other past ALC Chairs that we'd volunteered in Philadelphia to work with her on an ALC website for the 50th anniversary of ASA - which I don't think any of us have picked up since, without her gentle prodding. All of us could say something similar, because practically everything ALC did since I joined in 1981 (and before then, too, I'm confident!) benefited from Gretchen's wisdom, advice, and effort. We remember most vividly those things that happened only because she thought of them and did them, like the book donation handbook and the ASA panels on the book famine. But all we've done would have been less without her to inspire us and push us, gently and diplomatically, but firmly. It is hard to know how we've functioned without Betsy Widenmann's counsel and institutional memory, and it's hard to imagine how we'll carry on without Gretchen's energy and initiative. That we probably will continue effectively will be due in large part to the example Gretchen set for us and the strength of our memories of her. The shock of the news on June 11th still reverberates in ALC and the larger African Studies community.

Greg Finnegan
Harvard University

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