A Memorial celebrating the life and work of
Elizabeth A. Clark
Saturday, January 29, 2022, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
For a slideshow of images from the memorial, please see this page.
Laura Lieber, Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University
I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to stand anywhere less than right here, right now. I have actively avoided this moment of reckoning since September. I have, perhaps self-indulgently, let myself linger in that space of almost forwarding emails to Liz—things that might make her laugh; of starting to call her, with news that might make her proud, or gossip that might spice up a boring COVID afternoon. I actively avoid driving past the Forest because I’ll want to turn in. I’m sure that tonight I’ll have a half-formed thought that I need to tell Liz about this gathering. Such emails, of course, go unsent, and I never actually make the call. I have carefully saved but never relistened to the last, cheerful voicemails she left me. I love that I have her voice captured but I’m not yet ready to hear it. So let me begin by thanking you all for coming, because it helps to know that I am not alone in a strange place, with absence at the center where indomitable presence once was.
Genre conventions of my role here suggest I should offer a brief biography of Liz: her birth in Port Chester, New York, in 1938; her childhood in Delhi; her years at Vassar and Columbia, and then Mary Washington and Duke. But you can find those on Wikipedia, or in her mostly-accurate obituary. I could try to rehearse her scholarly accomplishments: list her field-transforming publications, name her illustrious students (who have carried her influence to the four corners), note her resolute commitment to the betterment of her field and thus decades of tireless service. But others here can—and will—speak more directly to Liz’s epoch-shifting influence, her transformation of “Patristics” into “Early Christianity” and her significance as a mentor and advocate. Perhaps I should speak of her as an astute judge of both character and argument, an exemplary hostess and a consumer of novels, someone who always asked after my children and shared my relief in lucking into a superlative nanny. But just as Liz could be a very private person, my memories of her are not yet ready to share. It isn’t late enough in the day, and I need a glass of Cloudy Bay.
The truth is that each of us here today—in person and online—had our own relationship with Liz: a unique origin story, favorite joke, preferred seat in her living room. Our own regrets and gratitudes. I know many of you because Liz thought I ought to know you, and for that I am so grateful; others I have never met until now, and yet our kinship is immediate. Liz invited us in, and—an artisan of human connectivity—knit us together. I, aspiring to retain an honor I had stumbled into, became a better scholar, mentor, and friend just by knowing her.
Among the gifts Liz gave me—and she gave me many gifts, more than she ever knew—she gave me the circle of her students. In my mind, and I think hers, her students were her children, and so I flattered myself as being something of an adoptee. My claim on this title was affirmed (so I was told) when I confessed how, after receiving tenure, whenever I thought, “Ah, now I can just watch Oprah and eat ho-ho’s,” I immediately imagined Liz, wordlessly frowning at me (at least, if it were before 5pm); and then, with a sigh, I would get back to work. “The system” might have permitted me to slack off, but Liz’s example reminded me that tenure was the beginning of my career, not its pinnacle. That sense of responsibility—to myself and to the field; to my institution and my gender; to my students, my colleagues, my teachers, and my friends—marked me as, aspirationally at least, a child, or step-child, of Liz.
It is with this network of kinships, fashioned out of will and sympathy, intuition and inclination, in mind that I want to share with you, as a way of closing this opening, a poem by one of my Liz-sisters, Tina Shepardson. She wrote this in memory of Liz and I share it with her permission:
Bright white hair in a fashionable bob
Black frames striking on her face
A chuckle; a nod
A muttered aside
She hosts with such ease and such grace.
A chunky silver ring on a small slender hand
Surrounded by students and friends
Typos and scarves
Cities and art
One last toast as a long evening ends.
An unbounded intellect searching and bold
Daring and daunting and kind
Feminist, mentor, and friend.
Calvinist grit with a creative flair
Shy, yet with so much to say
Welcome; come in
Held by the community she made.
Bruce Mayer, Liz’s nephew [transcription of live remarks]
Hello everybody, I’m Bruce Mayer, nephew of Liz. We were the family she didn’t pick. But I just wanted to say a few things on behalf of my mother Audrey, who is online in Milwaukee and not able to travel, and my brother Rob and sister Leslie, who are here, my partner Barb who’s here, and also Rob daughters, Emma and Sally, and my daughter Reyna, who are online watching us.
I just wanted to give a little bit of background on things you might not know about Liz. Perhaps an inspiration to students. But where did she come from and where did she go? The first thing is just a little history on her family. Her father Edmund and her mother Blanche were the first in their families to go to college. Her father was a professor at SUNY Delhi, in the building trades. He was actually a mason who belonged to the group and built walls. He built the house that Liz grew up in, which was very nice to see, in Delhi. So, she was an academic and pretty much from the start. And he had a basement full of tools. He had table saws and drill presses and really could build or fix most anything—back in the analogue age. And Liz told me once she grew up thinking that all men were that handy and she was sorely disappointed when she started dating. Which is to say, her father was a wonderful man, kind, sort of quiet, and strong in the old school way. Her mother taught high school history, and I know that they had theology because I remember as a little kid looking at their bookshelf and there were books by C.S. Lewis and so forth. So, Liz was certainly exposed to that sort of thought at a young age. Her parents lived through the Depression, so they were always frugal. And I think Liz picked that up.
And another story: Liz was born prematurely, and her mother said—Liz was younger, my mother was a little older—that if Liz has been first she would’ve been the only, because was a fussy child. And a few things that I remember: that their household was very formal. You needed to use proper English. You would not say kid instead of child; you would not read a comic book; you were always proper. And they had some books, if you aren’t familiar with the series of German books called Struwwelpeter, which were about dealing with misbehaving children. And, as an example, if you sucked your thumb, a monster would step out from behind the bush and cut your thumbs off so you couldn’t suck them anymore—very endearing German stories. But I think this all reflected high expectations that they had for their family. There was never any thought—they had two daughters—and they wanted them to make something of themselves. Her sister Audrey was five-and-a-half years older. So, there was a pretty wide gap in there. And I think—you know she went on to do many wonderful things later, but I think she was an annoying kid sister to my mother, when they were young. My mother got a Vassar scholarship, back in the days when if you were smart you could get a full scholarship. And Liz went to visit her sister and decided to go there on the same scholarship. Their family never could have afforded to send somebody to Vassar. So, it was an opportunity that shaped everything afterwards.
A couple of things about Vassar that I know through family. Liz started out in sciences; she did not know that she wanted to be a religious scholar from the start. And who would believe it—that the future chaired professor was such an emotional a wreck the summer after her freshman year that her father almost did not let her return to school. She was so worried, not knowing what she was going to do, or whether she would be successful, and so on. So, you know, things can turn around. The only other secondhand story I know about Liz at Vassar is that there was a class where there was an additional reading list, and it turned out, after professor was quizzing the class who had read what, that she had read every single thing. And I think that that sense of work, high expectations, the result was—well, you all know better than we do. There’s a story that Leslie wanted me to tell about Liz as a Columbia graduate student, when she misestimated the amount of money that she had and had actually returned some of the stiped which—rookie mistake, I guess. It turned out that she did not have money to eat for the rest of the semester. And they were always going to faculty receptions and stuffing rolls and things in her pockets. But through that and the fact her parents lived through the Depression, and I think she was always careful with her money.
And then just a few personal experiences that I had. I guess the first, just to say—things we’ve returned to—her being a tough editor and so on—fortunately she did not apply that to the family. She was always a wonderful aunt. It feels a little odd when you’re 64 to get a card with a check in it on your birthday. But it was very sweet.
Probably my very first clear memory of Liz was her and my mother sitting with the first issue of Ms. magazine, which would’ve been something like 1973. And Liz was very proud of having this. And it certainly, through my mother, had an effect on me and my siblings. We were all very aware of feminism and so forth. I had later in life business in Durham, so I came here at least once a year for the last 20 years. And Liz always made time in her schedule. But she was always super busy, so I would call well in advance. We’d have dinner and it was always very nice, and she was gracious enough to invite us to her New York City things, which I did more often in the last five years. My partner and Liz hit it off. And so, they would sit up talking and drinking wine all night, and I could go to bed. But Liz was very generous with us.
And then Barb did go help Liz clean up her apartment even without me, which was very nice of her to do, and then my sister Leslie also came up to do that, which was very nice. Barb ended up with a little bit of Liz’s silver jewelry. So, if you want to see her cuff and ring, Barb has that. Silver, and turquoise are her colors. So, it works out quite well.
And the pandemic was a good thing because we could Zoom for cocktails, and my daughter, Reyna, who did not really have any chance to spend any time with Liz for various family reasons, and so we had Liz online, where then—my daughter is currently a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin Madison, and it was nice to see Liz kind of light up when she saw how excited my daughter was about her classes. Liz was just always very supportive. She put together a 529 plan for our children, her nieces—she certainly didn’t have to do that but wanted to support them.
And I’ll just throw out: I wanted to say that Liz was always very thrifty. And I’m a CPA in my day job, and we would get talking about taxes and finance. And I wanted to give a shoutout to Bill Ramsey, who was her financial advisor, that he did a wonderful job, and she could not say enough wonderful things about him. So, if any of you need a financial advisor. Liz recommends him and I do too. And Barb and I laws saw Liz in August helping her clean out her Lancaster St. office. Liz would sit with Barb, and they would joke around and go through these old lectures and get rid of them. And I would haul up what seemed like several tons of paper. But—and I’m sure that was extremely helpful for Liz, to part with all of that.
And the last two things—one is that you all were amazing friends, and as family we certainly want to thank you. And Liz certainly expressed to us privately her thanks to all of you.
And now the last thing—to segway—when we were here Liz handed me a book to read, which she did not do very often. And that book had been read very closely, underlined, with asterisks, and so on. And it was a history of Sir John Maynard Keynes and Keynesianism titled The Price of Peace. It was sort of a story about the reaction against the New Deal and American prosperity, which was very much a product of Keynes and his ideas, FDR, and progressive income tax, and so forth. And how there was a huge reaction against that from the upper classes and has been ever since FDR first betrayed his class. And this book was a little bit about that. So, I think it helps—it helped me to put what’s going on now in perspective, and I wanted to say that you all are historians—or many of you are—of religion and so you have even a much longer perspective of history, not least of which is the story of women in the history of religion. And finding and pointing out the truth can make a difference. So, thank you and I look forward to hearing more.
Randall Styers, Associate Professor of Religion and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Good evening, and let me thank all of you who are attending the memorial service in person, and the many more joining through the livestream. What a remarkable community Elizabeth Clark brought together.
We’ll be hearing a great deal this evening about Liz as a family member, a mentor, a colleague, and a friend.
She was a path-breaking and tireless scholar who transformed her scholarly discipline—her energy and innovation were legendary.
She was a devoted teacher and mentor, and a ferocious editor (whose pen was feared and deeply valued).
She was a consummate New Yorker (who loved the city, and who loved sharing it with her friends).
She was a passionate patron of music, art, and theater.
In her earlier years, she was an activist and organizer, and then throughout her life, a constant supporter of progressive political candidates and causes.
She was an unflagging travel companion (as many of you have heard me say, traveling with Liz was like having your personal, interactive Encyclopedia Britannica, though perhaps the encyclopedia would be a bit more relaxed when there were unexpected bumps in the road!).
She was an extraordinary host; her living room was a crossroads where she built an expansive intellectual community and an ongoing network of friends.
And, of course, she was the most devoted fan of Irish breakfast tea, Heineken beer, and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
There’s much more to be said, but since I was able to spend a great deal of time with Liz last year during her illness, I know she would want me to thank you for the many, many expressions of kindness, and love, and support shared with Liz during her illness:
Telephone calls, and phone messages, and Zoom conversations;
Cards, and emails, and messages through her CaringBridge website;
Help from friends and neighbors at The Forest at Duke in getting mail, and newspapers, clothing, and other items from her apartment to the hospital;
When she was at home over the summer, visits that she treasured;
Flowers, and books, and treats of all kinds;
Later in the summer, reading to her in the evenings (a pleasure, she said, that reminded her of her childhood); and
Help from many people last summer and this fall in sorting through Liz’s books and files at her apartments on Lancaster Street and at The Forest at Duke.
Liz was deeply, deeply grateful for all those expressions of love—it meant so much to her to know that she was not alone as she faced her illness.
In helping sort through Liz’s files last year, we found so much evidence of her innumerable efforts to promote the success of her students and colleagues. Liz was extraordinarily generous with her time, energy, and her resources. Many of you have heard me recount this, but two days before she died, Liz was busy making contributions to political candidates all around the country, and the evening before she died, Liz was hard at work on a tenure review letter for a young scholar she was devoted to helping propel forward.
We all have lots to be grateful for as we remember Liz, and no one is more indebted to her wisdom, her devotion, her humor, and her generosity than I am. Thank you all.
Deborah A. DeMott, David F. Cavers Professor of Law at Duke Law School
I met Liz Clark not long after she joined the Duke faculty. Notwithstanding differences in our work as scholars—in my case, secular law, focused on private parties and their disputes—we became good friends. Indeed, once my teaching came to include Torts—the private-law aftermath of human folly in almost all forms that culminates in injury, often in surprising ways—Liz’s curiosity prompted many questions. I’ll share a few recollections of Liz as a friend, focused on two dimensions of our relationship.
First, travel. Liz loved to travel and was an intrepid traveler. No surprise, she was firmly committed to advance research and planning in considerable detail. She was also open to adventures along the way. I recall a drinking establishment in Palermo we came to call the “Radical Art Bar”—the back story of why is too long to recount. I still see Liz, venturing forth, guidebook always within easy reach. But I doubt the Radical Art Bar is featured in any guidebook for Sicily! In more recent years, spending time with Liz in New York City caused me to see something I’d never seen before. This is how challenging public transportation systems—to which Liz was devoted—can be for people no longer blessed with limber legs and joints, almost designed to restrict access to the able-bodies. But Liz persisted, strategizing ways to get about.
Second, I’ll always see Liz as a never-to-be-forgotten presence in particular spaces. These include the living rooms in her successive apartments on Lancaster Street and the Forest at Duke, in various apartments in residential buildings at Union Theological Seminary, and in my living room in Durham. In each, Liz had her favorite place to sit, in my living room a wooden frame chair with blue cushions and a small table to its left, convenient for a bottle of beer and a glass, each on its own coaster. Liz would inform other guests, when necessary, where I kept the coasters. And the conversations we had! What did we talk about? Most everything. Liz was endlessly curious about so much, including my work, always empathetic, a reliable source of good advice. And I learned so much from her—about early Christianity, growing up in Delhi, New York, academic politics, Fellini movies, and on and on. Her presence will always be with me.
Robin Darling Young, Associate Professor of Church History at the Catholic University of America
At Mary Washington College in 1970, all the students knew Miss Clark—the custom was still to call faculty Mister and Miss—as a professor from entirely another realm than the old segregated Virginia. In the Commonwealth where she’d been transplanted, around the centennial of the Civil War, Jim Crow lingered in its Black and white zones of Fredericksburg, and in the state’s separation of men’s and women’s colleges and their customs.
But Liz was from elsewhere—a messenger of the life of the mind. Behind the lectern in Monroe Hall, she was erudite, crisp, learned, informative, and for young women with thirsty and curious minds, she was irresistible. She was rightly demanding. She tempered not the wind to the shorn lamb, and she pushed us to grow up and make the choices appropriate to our lives as independent and ambitious citizens with rights. In the era of the Vietnam War and the struggle for the Equal Rights Amendment, she encouraged orderly disruption to blaze a trail toward lasting justice in this country. And she demanded no less of herself. Yet in her apartment across from the college, she welcomed us for conversation and drinks. She constructed, with her challenging affection, a durable and intense friendship that could blossom into love. Over fifty years she gave this to her students, her colleagues and her readers—and we carry it with us as we remember her with that same friendship and love, multiplied.
Bart Ehrman, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
No one can sum up the complexities of Liz Clark in three minutes. A lot of people saw only one side of her, as an incredibly learned, accomplished, and stylish scholar. In professional circles, many found her unusually intimidating—especially young scholars who very much wanted to be what she was. I first met Liz right after I moved to Chapel Hill in 1988; it was at a picnic, and I have to admit that even over hamburgers in a park I found her fearsome.
And did for some time. I eventually realized that it was largely because Liz was so shy. I was too, and the combination made for some very difficult lunches back in the early years, when I was just starting to get to know her. I had to resort to writing points of conversation on 3×5 cards in advance just to make sure we had something to talk about.
Eventually I realized the secret was to skip the lunches and go straight to drinks, dinner, and drinks. And anyone who knew Liz knows they had to be the right drinks. Years ago, Sarah and I had to rule out some of the local restaurants because they no longer carried Heineken. And God forbid if a waiter started pouring her brew for her. If any of them made the slightest move to do so, there was no human on the planet who could move faster than Liz to stop the sacrilege. The beer had to have a serious head. The head was primary. The irony of that didn’t strike me until recently.
Liz spent enormous amounts of energy fostering the life of the mind. Lots of scholars obviously have large and expansive intellects, and lots of others have unusually strong work ethics. Liz was that rare academic creature who had both in spades. Her work ethic was unbelievable. Unless she was attending one of the 47 university, department, or professional committees she was chairing, or teaching, or going to reading groups – she was at work. Up early and read massively. Read read read, and take notes on everything by hand. She was completely indefatigable, and she pursued whatever she thought she had to pursue, fearlessly, even when inside she quailed. Liz was the most dedicated stoic, calvinist, atheist academic I’ve ever known.
Her passion for her work rubbed off on her students, and I don’t need to tell any of you of her extraordinary commitment to them. Her devotion to mentoring, especially of younger women in the field and throughout the university, is legendary. She not only transformed the field of early Christian studies by her own work but also through the students she trained, who now are among the brightest stars of our generation.
Those of us who knew Liz well, though, who spent many hours over the snacks, drinks, dinner, and drinks—all of us knew her in other ways. She loved to laugh. She massively enjoyed departmental, university, and professional gossip. She had no qualms, especially later into the night, saying what she thought. But I will probably remember her best for being an incredibly loving and fiercely loyal person, one we adored, knowing that she would be unwavering in her love in return.’
Sarah Beckwith, Katherine Everett Gilbert Distinguished Professor of English at Duke University
Elizabeth Clark was President of this, President of that, a person of many honours and to whom all honours are due. Liz was absolutely formidable. But not to us.
To her friends, she was Liz Clark. I first met Liz in 1989 when she was just over 50 and I was just turning 30. We were friends for 32 years, a friendship that began in my first bewildered arrival in “this new, yet unapproachable America”, survived my departure to Pittsburgh, and my return two years later—a relationship refugee—to a Durham made hospitable by Liz’s continuing presence there. We became neighbours for a few years when I bought my apartment across the hall from hers in Lancaster Street. In those lovely rooms the doors were often open. We hunkered down in hurricanes, gossiped after a long day, mulled over daily life, and shared plans. We threw some good parties together but most of the parties were chez Liz. There usually was some kind of gathering at Liz’s on any night of the week—reading groups, dinners, impromptu soirees, post concert gatherings as well as the more intimate conversation. Liz got people together. The glasses would always be cleanly lined up, ready to have their linen cloths removed. The chicken tetrazini was in the oven, the Kim Crawford was open, with good whisky for those of stronger mettle, the friends so happy to be there, the fest on. And there was Liz, in her snazzy bobbed haircut, her signature silver jewelry, her crisp shorts and colourful scarves, and—as long as she could comfortably wear them—splendid SHOES.
Liz was profoundly interested in people, and in their work. She was funny, sometimes hilarious in her frankness. She was kind but had such a prudential grasp of the things of the world that she was never sentimental. Her mind was disciplined in all senses of the word; and every day—even when she was in her favourite place, Manhattan, she worked all day from early in the morning until later afternoon, every day of the week. But the evening was for play—dinners out, cultivating friendship, concerts, talks, theatre, and sharing the life of the mind. She and I loved Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway and she was up for a perfect marathon of plays in hot attics, warehouses, and tiny venues tucked away in hidden corners of the city.
My favourite photograph of Liz is one that used to be in the hall of the upstairs Lancaster Street apartment. She is young in black and white, and she is looking out of the window of a car: there is joy, unmitigated delight, a readiness for the variousness of the world. This was the road and she was on it.
Liz loved life and she always met it with spirit and courage, and dry wit. At the end of her life when her increasing weakness and wretched virus ruptured closeness and interfered with the rites of visitation in hospital, she could still cultivate friendship in the hope of more of it. She conceived the idea that some of her friends could read to her—something of their choosing. Now Liz herself was a first class reader. At the Forest at Duke she made a stunning recording of Edith Wharton’s Roman Fever, and hit every note in it—the satire, the sadness, the impeccable pacing and delay. Now, here, in early fall in hospital she was the listener. She could listen to voices she loved, new stories, and old. She could doze if she wished to as if this was a bedtime story; she would not have to talk but she could be soothed, or inspired, just as she needed at the other end of the phone. It was a way—creative, courageous—of going on together. And this idea comforted me so much when I felt helpless to do anything much at all for her, even see her, or hold her hand. I never did read my story to Liz because she died before I could do so. But it does not matter, because she thought of it and asked me (as I knew she had also asked others) and she knew that this was for me, for us, as much as for her. The thoughtfulness of it, the hunger for and love of life’s stories, our life’s stories and the necessity and hope of sharing them: this was Liz’s final gift to me, to us.
Tolly Boatwright, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Duke University
Good evening. I am Tolly Boatwright, professor emerita in Duke’s Department of Classical Studies. Although speaking for myself as well, I am here tonight to speak of some of Liz’s many connections to our department, where I taught from 1979 to 2020.
When Liz came to Duke in 1982 the Dept of Classical Studies was on East Campus, and Liz’s department of Religion over on West, smack next to Duke Chapel. But Liz’s firm roots in Classical Studies and her attentiveness to other academic women at Duke brought us together very soon. Liz became my close friend, particularly crucial to me in the absence then of female colleagues in Classical Studies. (Mine was not the only such department in the 1980s. To rectify the problem Liz, I and others in this room put together the Faculty Women’s Network to work towards a more welcoming and supportive climate for women here.) One last personal note here—Liz was a great friend not only to me but also to my husband, Paul. She was fascinated in his work in contraceptive and then HIV research. I can remember many evenings when she would turn to Paul and eagerly ask about his latest research trips!
But to return to Classical Studies: Liz quickly became essential to Classics as well as to me. With my historian colleague Kent Rigsby Liz helped mentor outstanding graduate students such as Dennis Trout and James Francis (PhD’s 1989 and 1991). She founded the Center for Late Ancient Studies in 1986 and then its Late Ancient Studies Reading Group, gathering and nurturing colleagues and students from Religion, Art History, History, Classical Studies, and other departments at Duke and nearby universities. The opportunity to meet regularly with such a large group was thrilling and foundational. The cross-disciplinary communities have helped shape many dissertations and careers, including of my 2017 graduate student Katie Langenfeld. Liz’s interests and warmth helped welcome many to Classical Studies, such as Clare Woods who brought late Latin and Carolingian intellectual history to our strengths in 1999. Clare ended up buying an adjacent apartment in the Lancaster Building. Throughout Liz’s time at Duke she also “worked” for our department, participating on five-year plans and tenure committees. Her light and lovely laughter enlivened such chores, even as her formidable intellect and talents got the job done, and done well.
Liz’s generosity forged innumerable enduring bonds across disciplines and specializations. Most of us surely remember her convivial apartment and the lively conversations there, including auspicious meetings with scholars influential to our own growth. In sum, Liz was vital to Duke’s Classical Studies individually and collectively. We may perhaps see her legacy in the fact that one of the department’s most recent hires, Cassandra Casias, specializes in late antiquity. I also see Liz every day in the breadth of my own interests and my countless memories.
I have named but a few of the many Classicists at Duke who were helped, influenced, mentored, and befriended by Liz here. But I speak for the whole department in saying that we miss and thank you, dear Liz.
Richard Jaffe, Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University
Good evening, everyone. I am Richard Jaffe, a colleague of Liz’s in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke. Liz was my faculty mentor and served as chair of my tenure promotion committee many years ago. She also was one of the least cantankerous senior members of the department when, as a newly minted associate professor, I foolishly became department chair for five years. Over the years, Liz, my wife, Elaine, and I became good friends, as we found our way into Liz’s crowded rotation of dinner and drinking partners.
On September 4, last year, just three days prior to Liz’s death, I telephoned to see how she was doing. For the past year or more, Liz and I had spoken quite a bit, because, like her, I have had to deal with having a blood cancer, in my case multiple myeloma. Having preceded Liz into the cancer club, a group no one wants to join, she often had questions for me about chemotherapy, treatment regimens, side effects, and navigating the Duke Cancer Center. When Liz answered the phone that Saturday morning, the first thing I said to her was, “You sound chipper!”, as I was surprised by the energy and cheer with which she greeted me. (As I am sure many of you will have noted…) Liz told me she was in the hospital yet again, then quickly began telling me about rushing to complete a letter supporting an assistant professor undergoing tenure review. Liz told me the scholar was doing excellent work and merited promotion, so she wanted to be sure to complete the review of her dossiers. Our conversation was interrupted by a nurse who came to measure Liz’s vitals, so we quickly ended our call. Less than three days later, Liz died, making this discussion of tenure evaluations our last conversation. When Laura called three days later to tell me Liz had just died, a couple of sentences from a well-known letter, “White Bones,” by a fifteenth-century Japanese Buddhist that is read at many Japanese Buddhist funerals, came to mind. Rennyo, the author, wrote, “It is said that we depart more quickly than dewdrops on the roots and tips of grass blades. Hence we may have glowing faces in the morning, but by evening we may turn into white bones.”
Until her last conscious moments Liz was a scholar’s scholar. What an amazing model she was of a life devoted to study, writing, teaching, service, and friendship. How natural and appropriate that one of her final concerns was to help a deserving younger scholar receive the recognition she deserved.
Elaine Maisner, Executive Editor of UNC Press
Thank you, everyone—I am grateful for the invitation to make some remarks today. I am Elaine Maisner, Richard Jaffe’s spouse, and it’s through Richard and the Duke dept of religious studies that I was lucky enough to meet Liz initially and to have some 20 years of getting to know her.
As I am an executive editor at UNC Press—where I introduced & built the Press’s list in religious studies over many years—Liz and I connected around general discussions of the field, including gossip about those in the field. Richard and I began to receive invitations to Liz’s truly convivial New Year’s Eve parties. And we occasionally went out to dinner locally. Eventually, even though we lived near each other, she and I often found time to visit together over a dinner during the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion and the American Historical Assn/American Society of Church History.
I didn’t know Liz very well at first. But during these unhurried dinners, sometimes just two of us, sometimes with others, she taught me about the art of friendship—how to make a friend. This is a lesson that I believe many of us learned from Liz, each in our own way, and this is a lesson that Liz has gifted to us. I don’t know whether she did this on purpose or whether it was simply the way she was—probably it intermingled, and it was a way that we learned to see.
On first meeting her, I was initially taken with her beautiful haircut…her predilection and devotion to the colors of black and white…the giant potted plants in her home…her most musical and conspiratorial tone of voice. What a pleasure it was to know that Liz would invite us to sit down beside her to talk at leisure—about politics, books, the scholarly endeavor—her primal dedication to and conviction about the need for great scholarly investigation—about food, travel—and of course … about other people. On getting to know her over the years, I was taken with and curious about her memories of her regular family background and relations. I looked many many times at the photos of her family, and of her as a child—photos she arrayed along the hallway of her Lancaster Street flat—and I need only close my eyes and see Liz as a brilliant, gimlet-eyed girl bursting to grow, thirsting to learn and shine. And she did.
Indeed my lasting memory and impression of Liz is of her gimlet eyes. She bestowed on me, on us, a lovely scrim of friendship, a comfort in settling in for a glass and a talk about books…an appreciation for the chicken soup I brought to her during her decline of the past year. But most of all, I am left with the memory and impression of her gimlet eyes, which, perhaps simply glancing at you now and then, drove home ..the most amused, penetrating, and serious awareness .. that we may do well to keep in mind, and at hand. Thank you, Liz.
Marie Lynn Miranda, Charles and Jill Fischer Provost and Professor of Applied & Computational Statistics at the University of Notre Dame
Thank, Laura, and thank you for allowing me to say a few words today. I came to Duke as an undergraduate in the early 80s. I had been a scholarship student at Catholic school in Detroit and came to Duke as a scholarship student. So, it was just this amazing thing to come to this amazing university, and I had a wide-eyed way of looking at what this experience would be.
I distinctly remember thinking: I had gone to Catholic school; I should take a course about Catholicism to figure out how badly I had been brainwashed. I discovered that there was this professor called Liz Clark teaching a course called “Roman Catholic Tradition.” So, I took the course with her, and she was phenomenal. The story that I remember most about this—there’s a lot actually, amazingly, about the history of the Catholic Church that I remember from that course – but the story I remember from the course the most is a story that she told about herself. She recounted that when she was young, she didn’t understand that “Christ” was a word that had a meaning in religious context. She just thought that it was Jesus’s last name – so there was Jesus Christ, Mary Christ, Joseph Christ, and the whole Christ family. Most of the students in the class started laughing, and me, I was thinking, “wait, their last name isn’t Christ?” But, I have to tell you, it was this amazing thing that she had told a joke about herself, about something she had believed, something that I also believed myself. Somehow or another in your sense of shared foolishness, she brought you fully into the room. You felt, despite everything that you didn’t know, that you could be connected to a great scholar and to great scholarship.
I know many of you know her as a scholar and as a graduate mentor, and as a fellow faculty member. What I’ll tell you is I first encountered her as a teacher, and she was an astonishingly good teacher. Amazing. I was simply gob smacked when she told me, as our friendship developed over the years, that she was always very nervous when she went into the classroom. I expressed disbelief that she was nervous, saying, “I would never have been able to tell that; you always had such great presence in the classroom.” And she said to me, “why do you think that I always held the side of the podium like this? To keep myself from falling down. Why did you think I held it like that?” And I said, “I thought it was, you know, to keep from flying out of the room! Because you were a superhero! It was the last thing that would have occurred to me.”
So having had this fantastic experience in “Roman Catholic Traditions”, I decided to take another course called “Women and Sexuality in the Christian Tradition” with her, which is the most important class that I have ever taken. And here’s where I should insert that I am a mathematician and statistician who works on environmental exposures in children. And that course, “Women and Sexuality in the Christian Tradition,” was the most important class that I ever took. I recently read something that a colleague of mine wrote that captured why that course was so important to me. She wrote in this essay, “once you learn how sexism and misogyny work, you cannot help but become attuned to how they shape patriarchal institutions, including those we love.” That quote reminded me of her course because what that course did for me and why it was so important is that it taught you to look for the complexity in the story—that there are all these ways that people work to simplify the story, to simplify the world, to make that more suiting and easy and palatable. But in doing that simplification and in reducing the dimensions of the world, you sometimes are led to a complete misconception of what the world is really like. Because so much dimensionality is lost in that simplification, we don’t understand the complexity of the situation that people find themselves in throughout time.
Liz was always so kind to me. I spent 21 years on the faculty here, and we had a very nice relationship throughout all of that time. She was always so kind to me. I got to come to some of the lovely parties along with my husband. But what I appreciated, as well, even when she was kind to me, she always challenged me if I resorted to shorthand thinking, if I found myself simplifying a little bit, just to make the day easier, make the problem easier. Whatever it was, she challenged me on that simplified reading. So, when people ask (when you’re an academic—I’m a professor—people always ask) “what’s the most influential course you ever took?” or “who was the most influential teacher you ever had?”, I always talk about “Women and Sexuality in the Christian Tradition”, and I talk about Liz Clark. Think about that. How is it that that course could have been so important for someone who’s a mathematician and statistician and looks at toxicological exposures in children. The reason is that she completely changed the way that I think about everything.
The last thing that I’ll say, the last of the many things I’ve learned—one of the things that always makes me smile: she taught me that your hair could go really, really gray, even pure silver. But if you wore black and white, you can still be a badass. Thank you.
Jennifer Knust, Director of the Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University
On September 29, 2018, thanks to much work by many of those assembled here—Maria, Laura, Annabel and Clare, Tolly, James, and so many others who advocated for and supported this obvious necessity—the Center for Late Ancient Studies was renamed the Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies. In honor of that day and this one too, some of the words of the naming resolution bear repeating:
Whereas, Professor Elizabeth A. Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion, emerita, and professor of History, founded the Center for Late Ancient Studies in 1986, which became a paradigm for daughter centers established by her students throughout North America, and provided its leadership for decades, and transformed Duke into the hub of Late Ancient Studies in North America; and
Whereas, Professor Clark has exercised a transforming influence upon the study of Early Christianity, in her scholarship, mentorship, and through her students, precipitating the emergence of the field of Late Ancient Christianity…[drawing] attention to the vital literary, historical, and cultural underpinnings of the period, and to groups (women, children, and slaves) whose contribution thereto had been previously neglected; and
Whereas Professor Clark has been recognized… as a scholarly giant…
Whereas Professor Clark’s influence … extends to transforming historians’ methodological repertoire [to include] the tools of feminist historiography, post-structural literary criticism and social network theory – methodological lenses that continue to prove fruitful in the work of other scholars…including dozens of her advisees who today serve as faculty at leading institutions of higher education…
Whereas Professor Clark’s scholarship on women in late antiquity and early Christianity proved ground-breaking, and her influence upon women in and beyond the fields of Religious Studies and History … has formed generations of scholars…
Whereas Professor Clark’s contributions to the intellectual community are widespread and continue in their impact to this date; and
Whereas as the Executive Committee of the Center for Late Ancient Studies wishes to acknowledge Professor Clark’s legacy by naming the center in her honor…
Therefore, be it resolved that the Board of Trustees of Duke University finds it fitting and proper to honor and recognize Professor Clark…
And thus, the Center for Late Ancient Studies re-named the Elizabeth A. Clark Center for Late Ancient Studies.
When the Center was rightly and fittingly renamed just over three years ago, none of us knew that we would be losing our founder, and so soon. That just didn’t seem possible. The sting of this loss is keenly felt at every meeting of the Late Ancient Studies Reading Group (or LASRG), at every lecture the Center sponsors, and at every Board meeting, as we try to figure out what to do next. We don’t believe in holding meetings without Liz, not ever. She always attended, even after the gatherings at her home ended, and she continued to visit from her hospital bed, zooming in to ask just the right question. Liz always, inevitably made just the right point at just the right time, putting us back on the right track and startling us with the insight we were looking for but had somehow missed. At LASRG these last few months, we have been putting out the Heineken with the wine, sparkling water, and grapes in case she comes after all. (Don’t worry—we share refreshments outside and social distance!) I think we will do that forever now, whether anyone drinks it or not.
Because that’s what we and I and the Center and Duke must somehow now do: honor her memory and legacy in every way we can, but without her lighting our way. The Heineken tradition seems rather inadequate to the task: What else would Liz do now? We are asking. What would she want us to do? And, as importantly, how will we have the courage to perceive and to do what should be done now, at this moment, and not to take no for an answer?
Liz was not simply an outstanding, once in a generation, utterly brilliant scholar, a disciplined, precise, and eloquent writer and speaker who transformed an entire field, a dedicated mentor and thrilling teacher who touched thousands of lives, she was also a passionate advocate for those whose voices are or have been ignored, silenced, and erased in the past and in the present. How many people did Liz in fact save? When we were preparing the biography that is now printed on the Center’s website (thanks to Nate Tilley for that), Liz made sure to remind us to include the details of her involvement in NOW, her efforts on behalf of the ERA, and her early years as a child who, despite an “abysmal” early education, found her way to Vassar. She knew what it was like to be pushed out and overlooked and she was not going to take it anymore, not if she could help it, not for herself, not for women in general, and not in the context of academia. As she rose in her career and her profession, she never forgot where she came from and where she still hoped to go. Many of us, many more than can be counted—many more than I know personally, and I know a few, including me—benefitted from her fierce, tenacious dedication to excellence, her decision to spend her energy and life’s work pursuing a thoroughly revitalized and revised version of what might or should count as “tradition,” and her willingness to work both behind and in front of the scenes on behalf of vulnerable younger scholars, students, and colleagues. Liz ended her last book, The Fathers Refounded, with the following sentence:
Although the impact of late twentieth-century critical theory, as well as new discoveries and advances in scholarship on antiquity, would challenge a number of Modernist and Liberal assumptions, those versions of progressive thinking still can serve, yet today, to challenge obscurantist and reactionary currents in American religious life.
She dedicated herself, her energies, and her career to challenging reactionary currents. She directed the exceedingly bright lights of her intellect, will, and compassion on that which was obscured. She never gave up on progressive thinking, discoveries and advances in scholarship, and the value of critical theory. Neither then, shall we. Thank you, Liz. We are so grateful. We miss you. I miss you. May the institutions you built, the lives you touched, and the paths you blazed remain open to all. May we have the courage, fortitude, and insight necessary to live up to your name, somehow, with or without Heineken.
Annabel Wharton, William B. Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University
(Bad) Poem for Liz
“Conservative” is not an attribute
that Liz brings to mind,
but she did, in some habits,
to the immutable incline.
Her hair style was inevitable,
always perfectly concise,
not like her footnotes, however precise.
So too her dress, in color and cut so classic,
in habit and demeanor,
Liz was, at the core, a radical intervener.
Her field she shifted to be much more vital,
making “patristics” an unviable title.
Liz was also most gifted
in the lives that she shifted.
She pushed her students and friends
to new ends
of their own intellectual obsession.
Further, as I know so well,
Liz, was effectively critical
of the political.
Without her intervention,
and John Hope’s rebuke,
tenure denied, I wouldn’t still be at Duke.
So, to end:
Of worlds more equitable
Liz was a maker.
In her own quiet way
she was a mighty mover and shaker.
Thank you, Liz.
I thought to close, perhaps, with Middlemarch—Liz so loved Dorothea; or Trollope, whom we always enjoyed. Or perhaps Piranesi, the book we were reading and didn’t finish—but I still don’t know how it ends. So instead, as we conclude the formal portion of this gathering, I leave you instead with a few brief excerpts from George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo, a slim novella about love and life and grief that I know meant something to Liz.
What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departures caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly gladdened at the memory.
Thank you, Liz; thank you, all; and cheers.