In Memoriam - Gretchen Walsh

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On Friday, June 29, 2007, friends and colleagues converged in the Marsh Chapel at Boston University to bid farewell to Gretchen and to express their heartfelt condolences to her family. Gretchen died on June 10 while on vacation in Utah with her husband, Dan.

From the bright cheery outside where birds were chirping in the trees, squirrels were scouting about for food, a gentle summer wind was swooshing among branches, swirling up dust from nearby road construction sites, we moved into the silent, contemplative chapel. Some in awe, some in semi shock, some bewildered, all in grief, we all gathered to console and be consoled. A mournful flute dirge at the beginning of the service reinforced our sorrow and reminded us of our loss. Reverend Dr. Robert Allan Hill, the Dean of Marsh Chapel called on us to accept, to affirm Gretchen's journey to the world beyond and to give thanks for the gift of her life. For Gretchen's life was that of a "spirited skeptic" (to borrow the words of Robert Hudson, Director of Boston University's Mugar Memorial Library), a "tireless advocate of African Studies and Africana Librarianship". Hers was a "multi-faceted life" that touched a lot of people (and animals) in different parts of the world including the US, Nigeria and Spain. We were reminded that Gretchen was not concerned about the big picture, she was more worried about what was looming behind the picture. "What can't I see?", she would ask. Well, worry no more, dear Gretchen, you have now joined the ancestors and can therefore see it all.

Reverend Karin Culp, Gretchen's childhood friend since the fourth grade, likened her friend's life and heart to "a house with a big porch" that welcomed all and found value in everyone. Gretchen's daughter, Tanya Lord, wistfully recalled her mother's "wry sense of humor" and her ability to say much with a few well-chosen words. And finally, her husband Dan, in a soft-spoken voice reminisced about Gretchen's love of outdoor life, of nature discovered in 1995 after a rafting trip. She had delightfully declared that this was a new aspect of her that she did not realize she had. Water rafting and hiking made her feel young, healthy and revitalized.

It is some consolation that she spent the last moments of her life doing what she loved doing most, communing alongside her husband with mother nature, feeling free, energized and happy. She found her gift, she found the place just right for her to take her leave. The lyrics of the hymn we sang ("Simple Gifts") appropriately convey Gretchen's final choice:

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

Adieu, Gretchen!

- Bassey Irele

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