A Tribute to Archie Motley and Bernice Brack from Former SAA Presidents
Hensen and J. Frank Cook
On Monday, November 11, long-time SAA member, Archie Motley, passed away
at Wagner Health Center in Evanston, Illinois. The following day, long-time
SAA employee, Bernice Brack, passed away at the Society of American Archivists
office in Chicago, Illinois. The deaths of Archie and Bernice have affected
many within and outside of the archival community as is evidenced by the
outpouring of heartfelt messages sent to the SAA office and on various
listservs within the last few days. The following tributes by former SAA
presidents, Steve Hensen and J. Frank Cook, echo the sentiments that many
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
My fellow colleagues:
I am sitting here stunned at 7:30 on this dreary rain-soaked morning,
having just learned of two enormous losses to the archival profession.
First, there is the death of Archie Motley on Monday afternoon, as reported
by Pat Quinn on the Archives & Archivists Listserv yesterday. The
archival world and the Society of American Archivists had no greater friend
and more passionate advocate than Archie Motley. Archie was a continuing
presence over the course of my professional career as both a regular attendee
at SAA annual meetings, where his hail-fellow-well-met good cheer and
down to earth manner were always a welcome antidote to the inevitable
stuffiness of professional gatherings. Archie was also about the only
reason I ever looked forward to the annual business meeting. He almost
always had something to say, and he always did so in a delightfully direct
and pungent manner. This was a man who cared deeply about his profession
and the professional society to which he gave so much. He was also a role
model and mentor for many archivists and in his professionalism and life
lessons his spirit will live on in those who learned from and admired
My most profound sympathies go also to Valerie and Mara, (Archie's wife
and daughter.) My daughter and Mara were often in the same SAA meeting
day-care facilities during the mid 1980s and, despite the fact that they
are both far past day care and there was little contact beyond those early
meetings, I always cherished this small family connectionespecially
in a context where there were few for me. Valerie also became a dear friend
and colleague during my term on Council. Her soft-spoken kindness, her
ever-ready helpfulness, and her incisive intelligence went far towards
making my experience there those three years some of the best of my life.
During my term as president, I knew I could always turn to Valerie for
help and advice and I appreciate that more than she will ever know. A
matter of perhaps no notice, but I found in typing the above every time
I tried to key in "Archie" it always came out first as "Archive."
Is it merely muscle memory or the fact that Archie was, in so many ways,
the very embodiment of the American archives profession?
Losing Bernice feels for me what it must be like to lose your mother.
She was always the friendly voice and counselor on the phone in the SAA
office to me and to countless other members. She was invariably helpful
in both professional and personal ways and I had hundreds of opportunites
over the years to call upon her. All I had to do was to call the SAA number
and, no matter who I asked for, she would always say "Steve?"
and pass a few pleasantries my way. She was also the stalwart at every
annual meeting I can remember, helping the staff keep registration and
the meeting moving along. This past summer, one of the highlights of the
Birmingham meeting was getting to meet Bernice's daughter, who had come
down from Atlanta to be with her mother and to help out. Those of you
who had the same pleasure will know that much of Bernice's spirit and
charm live on admirably in her daughter. She also has my deepest sympathies.
Bernice Brack will be sorely missed, certainly by her family and the other
office staff, but also by the hundreds of SAA members who were on the
receiving end of her kindness and mothering.
Forgive me for unburdening myself so publicly.
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
November 11th and 12th have been sad days for all of us who love the archival profession and The Society of American Archivists.
Archie Motley loved Chicago and his own Chicago Historical Society. He
died serving them and the lights aren't as bright in the Second City just
now. A gentle, loving man, he fiercely defended the powerless and led
by his words and actions to open the archival profession to new ideas
new colleagues. In a unique way he, his wife, Valerie, and their daughter
Mara were our archival family. Those of us who have been archivists for
couple of decades saw Archie and Valerie meet and fall in love, then like
dozens of aunts and uncles we anxiously awaited the birth of Mara, and
watched her at many archival meetings over the years growing into a lovely
young woman. Until sidelined by knee surgery in the Spring he and his
great good friend, Patrick Quinn, had never missed a Midwest Archives
Conference meeting since its founding in 1972. I wish the "contest"
have gone on forever.
Yesterday we lost one of the most gracious ladies it has been my privilege
to know. Bernice Brack WAS the SAA for many of us. When you had a problem,
Bernice took care of it with kindness and concern. The last time I saw
her was in Birmingham where she was hard at work helping us have the best
possible annual meeting. I wanted to take her to lunch but her work schedule
didn't fit with mine so we just talked for a few minutes. I patted her
hand and noticed how cold her hands were. Thinking it was just caused
by the hotel's air conditioning, I never thought that my last contact
with her on this earth would be trying to warm her hands. Her heart may
have failed physically but not the great loving, warm heart of her spirit.
Scripture says that Heaven is perfect but, St. Peter, if you need help
with membership services, the lady for the job just walked through the
Peace and Love,
J. FRANK COOK