A Tribute to Archie Motley and Bernice Brack from Former SAA Presidents Hensen and J. Frank Cook
Wednesday, November 13, 2002
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 him.
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.
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 us by his words and actions to open the archival profession to new ideas and 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 a 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" could 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 gates.
Peace and Love,
J. FRANK COOK