The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition
For twenty-two years, Helga Keller was the energetic administrator who stood fearlessly at the helm of CRCC. If Doug is the ship's captain, Helga was its pilot for all those years. In running the show, she was also the midwife of many a PhD that emerged from the center. We all owe her great gratitude for her service. On January 29th, 2011, we were very sad to hear the news that she had passed away due to complications from heart surgery.
An excerpt from the speech Doug gave in memoriam, at the celebration of Helga's life held at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Bloomington, gives some hints as to the wonderful woman that Helga was:
Almost all of us here knew Helga personally, some for a long time, and some for not so long. But no matter how little one knew her, one thing was clear as a bell: Helga was brimming with vim, vigor, verve, vitality, brio, spark, and sparkle. In many ways, Helga was bigger than life — so deeply involved in so many projects, and so caring about the lives of so many people.
Each of us knew Helga in our own fashion, and my particular connection to her started out with my being her “boss” and her being my “administrative assistant”, but that was quickly superseded by great mutual respect and ever-growing affection that lasted for well over 22 years. I will tell some of this story in a moment, but before doing so, I would like to make a small tribute to Helgaís unique style by listing a few random images that for me capture a bit of her spirit:
- beautiful scarves and sashes and brooches, flowery dresses and feminine hairdos;
- always serving meals and coffee and tea on elegant china;
- lovingly explaining a painting, scroll, or manuscript to a rapt group of listeners;
- walking several brisk tours of a mile-long loop at the crack of dawn;
- writing a myriad pen-and-ink letters and thank-you notes full of gracious oldfashioned phrases, always legible, even beautiful, despite a tremor in the hand;
- fearlessly sailing the wild seas of bureacracy, all the while lamenting its craziness;
- always remembering special days and commemorating anniversaries;
- often flying halfway around the world to take loving care of an aging parent;
- someone who respected old-fashioned civility and courtesy, and who found it wrong for people to first-name total strangers, as if it were an act of friendliness;
- an old-world baker who never failed to bring scrumptious delights to meetings;
- going to lectures of all sorts in order to learn, learn, learn;
- the first person whom I ecstatically hugged, at 1 AM in a downtown cafť, when I learned that Barack Obama had been elected President of the United States;
- at the drop of a hat driving to Chicago and back in a day, just to make sure a visitor got to attend a show, see an exhibit, or take an architectural tour;
- a lifelong gardener who spontaneously brought a bouquet of flowers to welcome a new member of my group, sight unseen, just out of the goodness of her heart.
Thatís the kind of person Helga was, and itís terribly hard to believe that she is no more.
(The full text of Doug's memorial speech is available here.)
Helga, with some of her dear friends and family. Pictured, left to right, are: Howard Keller (Helga's husband), Inga Karliner, Doug Hofstadter, Laura Hofstadter, Helga Keller, Nathaniel Shar, and Danny Hofstadter
We will all miss you, Helga. . .
--Douglas and the FARGonauts