Readers might conclude, from my vita, that I am rather young to retire. This is unfortunately true. I am compelled to retire because of the continuing degradation of my health since my lumbar infarction in summer 2012. I have finally had to accept that I can no longer give the quantity or quality of attention, energy, creativity, and passion to the leadership of the AHC that the Center, its superb employees, its researchers, and its other supporters deserve. This is a very, very difficult realization for me; I love this job and this institution. On the other hand, it would be fair to say I should have seen this coming from a long way off.
I began my tenure at the AHC in August of 2002. It was right in the middle of the Center’s strategic planning process. Almost before I had unpacked my office I was leading an all-staff retreat in a log structure at Curt Gowdy state park, close to Laramie. So in some way it seems almost fitting that still in the midst of the Center’s most recent strategic planning process, about 12 ½ years later, I must announce my retirement. My last day at the AHC will be approximately the end of April, 2015.
Approximately a decade ago I met with an orthopedist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale who suggested at the time that I should have been on disability years before based on the severity and extent of my arthritis alone. I laughed him off then. I even, as most readers of our newsletter know, laughed off the notion that paraplegia would keep me from returning to the helm of the AHC. However, since my stroke I have had serious conditions related to my heart, kidneys and several other internal organs, as well as a diagnosis of diabetes and other complications. These were added to pre-stroke advanced arthritis in a host of joints and other conditions I’m afraid aren’t easy to discuss in a family newsletter. So my retirement will be for reasons of disability.
I have tried during my tenure at the Center to give my all toward making it a better, stronger, more visible, and more honored institution than when I arrived. If I did succeed, it was because I had the immense good fortune to work with outstanding colleagues, whose energy and talent equaled or exceeded my own. I will allow myself the indulgence of saying that I am particularly proud of the AHC having received the SAA Distinguished Service Award, almost a dozen competitive grants (National Endowment for the Humanities, US Department of Education, National Historic Publications and Records Commission—x3, National Film Preservation Foundation, Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund—x4, Wyoming Humanities Council—x2), significantly increased the breadth of UW departments with whose undergraduates we work, expanded Wyoming History Day, developed and/or implemented cutting-edge professional practices (including audio digitization, reappraisal and deaccessioning, minimal processing, backlog elimination, mass digitization, creating web collections, defining and publishing collection development and collection management policies), and influenced the archival profession broadly through the expansive and expert presentations, workshops, and articles produced by our superlative archivists and curators.
It has been a continuing honor as well as privilege to be the director of the AHC, to work alongside the best group of archivists in the nation, to work toward the success of student historians and senior scholars in pursuit of complex research, to work with professional colleagues across this country and beyond, and to work with the support of UW presidents, provosts, division heads, deans, and faculty members. I have been tremendously lucky to work here. Let me give one specific example, one that also has to do with the change in leadership at the AHC.
For I must also relay the retirement of Rick Ewig, long, long-time associate director and several times interim director. Rick’s situation is different from mine. He has reached a combination of age and years of service to the state of Wyoming that would have permitted him to take full retirement benefits several years ago. But as he has said to me and to others, there were just too many interesting things going on at the AHC to walk away. But the time had finally come, he told me one day this autumn.
It is important to say that my success at the AHC, whatever success I managed to achieve, depended from beginning to end in no small measure on Rick. Depended on my having an associate I could trust implicitly, depended on the Center having an associate director who knew more about Wyoming history than all but one other living individual, depended on the AHC having a superb director of Wyoming History Day, a remarkably well-connected and universally respected administrator who ensured that the Center was a partner with the other historical institutions in our state, in sum, a true scholar and gentleman. When he explained his retirement plans to me last autumn, Rick knew nothing of my decision about my own retirement.
When I divulged my intentions to him we both realized that the AHC could not lose its two top administrators at the same time, for who knew how many months before a new director could be sought and installed (we will be doing an international search, and expect a large and impressive applicant pool). The reasonable solution to the problem of a potentially leaderless AHC, would have been for Rick to retire as he had already planned—he had a date defined and plans laid—and for me to remain as director until a new one could be hired. That might delay my retirement by 6-9 months, but it seemed like the fair thing to do.
Rick instead insisted that the right thing to do was to permit me to take as much pressure off my strained health as soon as possible, and that his retirement plans could easily be put on hold for the necessary period. So he volunteered to delay his date of retirement to occur far enough after my retirement that the Center would have had time to do an international search and hire a new director before Rick left. I will never be able to repay his selfless act of generosity, kindness, and compassion.
But…I just cannot end on a sad note, however gallant. So…. Most of our readers are by now well familiar with my penchant for quoting from our researchers and others as anecdotal evidence that the AHC is a world-class repository. In this column, the quotation is a bit different, in that it expresses, better than I’ve ever been able to, the nearly visceral reaction students have to encountering original sources of history—encountering them not under glass or on line, but tactilely, directly, immediately. Such an encounter can quite significantly change the way a young person views his or her place in the world. This is a quote from a paper from an undergraduate history course, about a student’s required primary source research exercise:
The collection at the AHC is incredible! I can’t explain the feeling of holding a piece of literature that’s close to a century old. I’ve never been involved in something like this before. I think every student should take some time to go through some of the collections in the AHC. It actually helped me develop pride in my University and it really showed me that our school takes pride in its collections and it’s student’s education. I will be visiting the AHC again soon to handle the Buffalo Bill and Jim Bridger collections. These collections are important to me because of the stories I grew up listening to around the family campfire. In regards to History for undergrads I think this could help us develop an appreciation for Wyoming history that power points and lectures can’t even come close to doing.
Hear! Hear! I couldn’t have invented a better sentiment on which to exit. I am deeply grateful for your support of and kindness toward me these past 12 ½ years. Rest assured that I will, as I know all of you will, bolster and strengthen the AHC in every way possible in future. I look forward to its continuing prominence and excellence. Thank you, and farewell.
–Mark Greene, AHC Director