A Tribute to Geoffrey C. Godbey

By Dustin, Dan | Journal of Leisure Research, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview
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A Tribute to Geoffrey C. Godbey

Dustin, Dan, Journal of Leisure Research

Dan Dustin, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair

Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism

University of Utah

The Pennsylvania State University's Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management is blessed with an extraordinary faculty. While each member of the department is distinguished by her or his own academic specialty, there has been one individual among them who has distinguished himself in a more global way. For more than three decades Geof Godbey's name has been synonymous with Penn State, and the university is bound to be a different place now without him. I say this because Godbey, as much as any other professor in our field, has had a monumental impact on recreation, park and leisure studies through his teaching, scholarship and service.

Godbey once described himself as a "pointy-headed professor" (Godbey, 1990a, p. 63). I will not argue that. He "loves the thrust and parry of debate, the theatrical pomposity of those who think themselves to have answers (and occasionally who do), the hide and go seek with the truth, the endless knocking on the door of the unknowable, showing off with numbers and startling statistical techniques, the invention of arcane terms to develop taxonomies which knock the common sense out of what we formerly knew in order to 'privatize' the truth, the cocksure pronouncement, which, like intellectual Chinese food, somehow leaves your mind hungry an hour later. You can only play in universities," Godbey insists, "if you feel at home in them" (p. 63). One of the things I will miss most about Godbey is his "at home ness" in the university, the joy and exhilaration he feels living in, and contributing to, the unfolding world of ideas.

I confess that when I first met Godbey in the 1980s, he intimidated me. He is, after all, a large man. Standing six feet four inches tall, with a shock of white hair, and the look of a scrappy dog that is ready to pounce if you show fear, I feigned courage to get through my first few interactions with him. To this day I don't know how I would have fared had I been one of his graduate students. Insecurity about oneself does not set well with a big dog. Godbey's modus operandi has been to challenge what he perceives to be weakness, to see what holds up under pressure. That style has served him well on campus, on the squash court, and on television. He has a presence about him, a confidence that commands your attention.

Godbey's self-assuredness comes not only from his intellect, but also from traveling and reading widely. "You can't be worth a damn as a professor unless you read," he proclaims (Godbey, 1990a, pp. 65-66). He doesn't mean reading everything within the field of recreation, parks and leisure studies. He means reading widely, reading the latest of most everything that's been written. Over the years I have received scores of emails from Godbey alerting me to something significant he had just read, and I have many of those same books in my library that were gifts from him as well.

It is this gradual spiraling outward from a tightly focused interest on leisure to wider and wider views of how leisure relates to other dimensions of our lives and how other dimensions of our lives relate to leisure that marks the evolution of Godbey's career. He has been busy placing leisure into larger and larger contexts, thereby giving leisure larger and larger meaning. This has been especially evident in his recent forays to mainland China. He has blazed the trail for several of his colleagues. This is a desirable path for a mature professor, to integrate one's own learning into a more general understanding of, and appreciation for, the overall workings of things. In this regard, Godbey has come a long, long way. In doing so, he has brought our field a long, long way as well.

What separates Godbey from the rest of us is his media presence. He has served as the principal spokesman for our field in communicating the significance of what we study to the larger world.

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