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Early Reflections on Robert V. Remini

April 1, 2013

[Updated: 8:15 pm, CST]

Robert V. Remini passed late last week. Here’s an abbreviated, informal obituary, and here’s a more detailed accounting of his life and work. [Update: Here’s a formal obituary hosted by UIC News.]

Why am I attending? I worked under Dr. Remini for two years, from October 2008 until August 2010, in the Office of the Historian at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I’m *very* grateful for the time I had with him, though he wasn’t always, um, “pleasant.”

Remini was an old school academic in every sense of the term: more than a bit elitist, detailed, imperious, demanding, super sensitive to slights, etc. It may seem disrespectful to say, so soon after his passing, but he was also something of an unconscious racist—inclined to broad and severe generalizations based on physical appearance, as well as insensitive to difference.* I deliver this as a statement of fact, though I’ll be curious to see how others who knew him closely acknowledge that aspect of his person. At the end of his time at UIC he was also very paranoid and prone to losing his temper. The fact is: he knew he was in decline, but he couldn’t let go of his position as an intellectual who, having learned how power worked, trafficked in it during the last years of his life.

I began with the negatives, but Dr. Remini could be *remarkably* personable, sensitive, and even charming. This would be on display both with his staff and in his interactions with the Daley family. He was honestly concerned for you—gentle and generous even. Robert-V-ReminiThis is a small material example, but he often passed along, gratis, expensive Chicago Symphony tickets to his staff. He cared for all of his family, especially his wife Ruth who passed about a year ago. More personally, he was very concerned that I get a contract and finish my book—even though the topic wasn’t strictly office related. He wanted me to succeed not just a staff person under him, but in the profession at large. He appreciated my larger work on U.S. intellectual history. I wish I had known him during his personal and intellectual peaks, during the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s. This picture to right is how I’ll remember him.

So, warts and all, I’m glad I got to know him, even in his decline. I didn’t know him perfectly, but well enough. I could say more, but I’ll stop here.

I’m going to raise a glass to him tonight—remembering him in his fullness. – TL

*As is often the case his racism didn’t come out in relation to every non-white person. Remini’s seemed to appear when he found additional reasons to dislike the person. I recall a few remarks passed about a particular senior UIC administrator that took me aback (e.g. “their kind,” “that’s what they do”). I’m not sure he even realized how unacceptable the remarks were.

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