Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Wally Osterholz 1942-2014

(From remarks made at the New School on March 30, 2015, at Wally's memorial service)

As a child, Wally for me was neutral ground: she knew both my parents, who were divorced but both taught at the New School, Unlike others who knew them both, Wally was not on one side or the other; her relationship with both my parents was a professional one. Precisely for this reason, when I saw how she interacted with both I gained a perspective on their peculiarities and learned better how to situate myself between both of them. This was a skill I think Wally had to exercise many times working as an omni-administrator at the New School for over four decades: interacting with people of various dispositions and enabling the institution to negotiate among and around their various quirks. She was warm yet competent, caring yet efficient; and this humanistic demeanor helped her work well with the other unusual and resourceful thinkers—Reuben Abel, Allen Austill, and Al Landa, who epitomized the New School of the 1960s and 1970.s. Academic traits that are buzzwords today---interdisciplinarity and, yes, public engagement--were unarticulated then, but Wally’s work, in the most ingrained way possible, was fostering these tendencies. Just the fact that she worked both with my father, a political scientist, and my mother, a literary scholar, showed me that thinking across disciplines was possible. Wally helped the New School show this to many through her four decades of service and through many institutional permutations and redefinitions.

      Often, one or the other of my parents would leave me in the fishbowl room to read while they taught. Wally was there to ultimately watch over me but never interfered, just letting me read and adventure amid real and imagined worlds. Meanwhile, I would hear Wally typing—one still typed back then—and talking on the phone, laughing, improvising, reacting, arranging, and above all receiving the Hogarthian parade of humanity that processed through the third floor. To me she was the New School. I was not far off.

No comments: