Academic journal article The Oral History Review

My Significant Mentor

Academic journal article The Oral History Review

My Significant Mentor

Article excerpt

Desperately in need of intellectual stimulation after six years of raising children, I stumbled into oral history in 1978, barely knowing the word, let alone the practice. The fact that I am still engaged in the field at the Regional Oral History Office is largely due to Willa. So why do I consider Willa such a significant mentor? First of all, it was obvious to all that oral history was central to her life. She was a pioneer of the methodology, author of influential books and publications, the eminence grise behind the 1500 or so blue and gold oral history volumes produced under her long tenure at ROHO, and the demanding yet beneficent head honcho at ROHO. (It was not coincidental that her desk was located in the midst of the fray in the central office where she could monitor activity and quash undue chitchat). She set the highest standards for the oral histories pouring out of the office, was personally and significantly engaged in every single project, stood up to library administrators who did not give ROHO its due, and reached out to the campus and wider community by attending a dizzying variety of events, presentations, and memorials. She knew to a T the value of networking and was a peripatetic mistress of the art. She was also a shrewd and creative fundraiser and book balancer, sometimes to the consternation of the staid bookkeepers downstairs.

I had the pleasure of working under the "Willa Regime" for almost 20 years--a mere blink of the eye for old timers such as Suzanne Riess, Gaby Morris, and Malca Chall--and of having an increasingly close relationship with her, both professionally and personally, as the years rolled on. …

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