Thursday, April 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Barbara!

Today is Barbara Jelavich's 84th birthday. Barbara was one of my graduate advisers at Indiana, the academic and life partner of Charles Jelavich, who remains a going concern in every possible way. She left our mortal world l2 years ago, but she is very much alive in the hearts of those who knew her.

Barbara was an academic "brat," the only child of a UC Berkeley English Professor. Proving that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, she became an historian and had a distinguished career as an author, mentor to graduate students and all-around remarkable person. One of her books, titled simply History of the Balkans(2 volumes), does the impossible in breaking down the myriad peoples and issues of the Balkan region for any non-specialist to understand. She is succinct, cogent and dispassionate in that work, in fact in all her works, proof of which is the fact that the Balkan history has been translated into and made available in ALL the Balkan languages. That's a loaves-and-fishes kind of miracle in that contentious region of the world.

Barbara could be formidable, because she was a world-class historian, but mostly she was friendl, conscientious, and always capable of surprising people. She was an opera maven who loved hockey and baseball for the possibility of a bench-clearing brawl. Her word was law when making critical comments on papers, but she leavened the severity by becoming "La Dauphine" as the person doing the grading. She could wow an audience of academics with a lecture, then giggle with students about how she used to sneak out of the house in California and chat up sailors when she was "quite young." She also had an appealingly twisted sense of humor. One year, students of hers in a seminar wanted to mark her birthday with a cake during class. They got the cake, brought it into the room, delighting her, and then opened the box to read, on the cake, "Happy Bar Mitzvah, Harry!" I never saw Barbara laugh so hard...she couldn't get her breath for about twenty minutes. Neither could anyone else!

I wish anyone reading this had had a chance to know Barbara, but we are lucky, because she left an extensive last will and testament in her many good works on German and east European history. Happy Birthday, Barbara, wherever you are. You will never be forgotten.

1 comment:

german said...

i know i would have enjoyed having her as a professor for at least one class. i have one of her books in my favorites at barnes and noble and looking forward to getting it soon. from what i read of the reviews it sounds like it would be an indespensable tool in the classroom until the present time and the fall of tito