By LINDA TASHBOOK
When retired Pitt English professor Robert L. Gale died on Thanksgiving Day, at the tender age of 100 years and 11 months, he left behind scores of publications, three children, five grandchildren, thousands of former students, and an unusually large quantity of true friends, as well as piles and shelves of stuff that he had accumulated.
For more details on Robert Gale’s life and funeral service information, see the obituary from the Dec. 2 Post-Gazette.
He appreciated long opening lines. In fact, he appreciated a lot of things. His best legacy is surely the trail of grateful and complimentary notes that he wrote as he made his way through life. I have one of them, formally typed on stationery, tacked to the bulletin board above my desk, plus several that are handwritten as autographs in copies of his books.
He could have written, “Enjoy the book!” or “Eureka! My desk is clear” or even quoted the author whose writing he explicated. (All of his books and articles were explications of American writers.) But instead, Bob expressed gratitude in his autographs. This was true English professor gratitude — thanks and praise efficiently composed with precise compliments reflecting the conversations he’d had as he worked on each book. He must have critiqued students’ work over the years and given some bad grades, but most of his writing, that which went to friends and colleagues or explained individual authors, was gracious.
The formal letter on my bulletin board is praise for an article that I wrote about Bob and another retired Pitt English professor, Ed Marrs. Bob had come to the library at the School of Law, seeking justice for Ed when a professor at another university appropriated his work, and I happened to be the librarian on duty. That was when we met. A series of law library reference inquiries followed as those two retired literary analysts used the written word, not brute strength or the court system, to fight the force of evil. In the end, Ed prevailed, thanks to Bob’s heroic friendship.
Bob continued to visit the law library for years afterward, until he just couldn’t make the trip from Techview Terrace anymore. He made even more frequent use of the Hillman Library as he kept publishing books for decades beyond retirement. In one of my favorite online ironies, a University webmaster made a screensaver from a photo of Bob reading a book at the Hillman Library. I printed and mailed a screenshot to Bob, knowing that he would love it even though he did not have a computer at home and was not familiar with the words “webmaster” and “screensaver.”
Bob Gale represented the best of Pitt. Teaching, writing and collegiality all resulting from his own appreciation and all generating appreciation in the rest of us.
Linda Tashbook is the Foreign, International and Comparative Law librarian and an adjunct professor in Pitt’s School of Law.