Normally, for an Up Late post, I like to find and accent the funny, the weird, the ironic…and I’ll be back to that soon enough. But tonight is a little different.
One gorgeous day in August 1987, I began my post-secondary education at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL. Santa Fe is now ranked one of the top 10 colleges in the nation-but this tradition of excellence is nothing new, and when I was there, it was really in what can only be described as a Golden Age. I have often considered the staff there the true intellectual elite of Gainesville-no small compliment in the home of the University of FL-because their talent, knowledge, and teaching skill was the equal of the best the giant UF could offer, but they were too smart to get caught up in the rat-race, dog-eat-dog, ruthlessly Darwinian environment that is any major university. It was that day that I made my first acquaintance with one of these these giants-anthropologist Stuart McRae.
Stuart was one of the most dynamic individuals I have ever met-a true Renaissance Man, who lived to teach, learn, and laugh. Whether it was in class, a bar, around a bonfire at his farm, or one of the many study-abroad programs he led, Stuart was interested in learning everything, and teaching everything. He was a born lecturer-in the best possible sense-in that his mixture of expertise, experience, and storyteller’s skill made every narrative a gripping adventure, every point a profound life lesson. He had a booming laugh that could be heard from far away, and which was deeply infectious; he spread joy and laughter everywhere he went. He once described Santa Fe as “the ultimate teaching environment.” This was due to his belief that K-12 was primarily for socialization, enculturation, and discipline, while the universities are for research. He was one of the most dynamic, inspirational people I have ever met-and this creates a strange dissonance, as I simultaneously celebrate his life, and my own fortune in being blessed to walk alongside him for a short time during this part of the journey, while I mourn his passing, and the ill fortune of those who will never know what it is like to be in the presence of someone who truly lives life to the fullest.
Fair winds and following seas, Stuart. We who knew you were immeasurably blessed by your generosity, your wisdom, and your greatness of spirit.Pass now into the realm of myth and legend, though none will approach the reality-mere shadows of what once was, recounted in hushed, loving tones by those of us sufficiently blessed to have lived in the time of Stuart McRae.
Farewell, great soul.