Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dr. Samuel E. Longmire, 1938-2008


As Jason and I prepared to leave for London on April 9, I mentioned the fact that every time we go there, someone we love dies. I wondered who it would be this time, not realizing that as I spoke, my beloved college mentor was breathing his last.

Sam Longmire was the most remarkable person I ever knew. His depth of knowledge of literature was beyond anyone's, and his dedication to bettering those around him was astounding. He was so full of life and love and vitality that, his son and I have concluded, his death has left a gaping hole in the world that will never, ever be filled.

I have mentioned before the role he played in my career, first showing me that you can major in English and still have a lucrative career. But he also showed me that if you don't do what you love, the money will be worthless. He helped me reach for my dream of writing for a living, something a first-generation college student in small-town Indiana could have scarce dared hope for.

He was also, for a time, my very best friend. He helped me through so many imagined college traumas, always offering encouragement and quietly pulling strings for me behind the scenes, whether that be getting me an interview for a Fulbright or fixing me up with a succession of beaus.

The Longmire house was a world apart from where I grew up--a Craftsman bungalow that smelled of coffee and paperbacks, where you could always join a singalong at the grand piano or get a glass of Cranapple and a sympathetic ear. I spent as much time as I could there from 1981 to 1989.

You can read more about his remarkable life here.

When my mother told me in London that he had died, I wasn't surprised. He'd e-mailed me in November to say that his health was failing and that he'd had a near-death experience. He gave up editorship of his literary journal just a few weeks ago. I knew time was running out. Still, it was a sickening gut-punch. I was thankful that I had brought my husband and daughter to meet him in 2006, and that I had written an article about him and his novel for the University of Evansville alumni magazine last year, in hopes of helping him sell a few more books. He did so much for me--this was the least I could do in return.

Missing the memorial service always puts a mourner at a disadvantage. Luckily, I'll be speaking with his son Warren (an instructional designer at Apple) later this week and hopefully we can work toward closure together.


6 comments:

Julie Cancio Harper said...

Lori, I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad to hear that you're in touch with the family during this difficult time. Teachers and other mentors play such a pivotal role in our development as professionals and as people, and this is a reminder to me to get in touch and say thank you while the opportunity exists.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Thanks, Julie. Without getting too preachy, your reaction is exactly what I hoped people would do--thank your mentors now while you still have the chance.

Michael R. Klozotsky said...

Sam was my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.

I lived with him in Evansville for a year and a half when I was in college--shortly before his retirement.

I just learned last night that he had died.

I miss him now, more than ever. The world--to be sure--is reduced without him in it.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Michael,

I am so sorry for your loss, as well. I hope Sam realized how much he was loved by so many.

Anonymous said...

Lori,

Sam Longmire was MY teacher back at Vanderbilt, 37 years ago. I remember him fondly, because he was undoubtedly the best professor of literature I ever knew, and he inspired not simply understanding, but enjoyment of books. He introduced me to the works of Lawrence, Joyce, and Frank O'Connor. I never knew how much I would like the work of Jane Austen and Henry Fielding until I heard Sam bubble over with enthusiasm for their work. Well do I recall his laughter when he asked me, "Doesn't anyone read Jane Austen anymore?" He made me want to go out and read those books, just so I could have the pleasure to discuss them with him some more.

I am devastated to learn of his death. There aren't enough people like Sam in the world. He was irreplaceable.

Lori Cates Hand said...

Dear fellow Sam-ite,

Hearing from you has made my day. What a wonderful and special man he was, and how lucky we are to have had him in our lives. His wisdom continues to guide and comfort me, and his words continue to make me laugh, as I hope they do you.

Lori