Retirement parties and friends

It’s funny how it often takes a retirement party to discover a passion of even a long-but-slightly-known colleague. Yesterday I went to Katy McKinin’s retirement party, and discovered that what she loves is clay. She has a gallery called Eighteen hands and shows some wonderful works there. She’s active in one of my favorite Houston charities, and events, Empty Bowls which benefits the Houston Food Bank. I’ve known Katy a good 20 years or so, and others at her retirement I remember from when I first arrived at Rice in 1989, like Andrea Martin. Katy has helped me at some key points with computer issues, and in particular with early web design – I started out when it was called Mosaic.

Andrea and I go back to the days when everything was done on those 90 column paper cards, in the basement of the Herman Brown building. Then we had the new building, and a room of computer terminals hooked to a mainframe. It was kind of fun the way statistical types from all across campus gathered there. When we dispersed, it was different, more isolated into departments, except at the colleges. Andrea I know well enough to know her passion of music.

Others I saw there were close friends, and more distant ones, but all mostly long known. Friendship is so important to our feeling of joy, and in some ways so hard to understand. What makes someone a friend? What kinds of friends are there? Can you be friends with someone who is your boss, or you are their boss, even in the weak way these words are defined in academics? I think so. I imagine in the villages and bands we humans evolved in friendships had important and different roles, because there was so much less mobility. Maybe friendships within the band served very different functions from friendships across bands, perhaps of people met only in trading situations.

I have a lot of friends here at Rice. I will keep up with the close ones, but not so much with the more distant ones. St. Louis seems like a friendly place, and I’m sure I’ll make lots of new friends there. When I visit Rice, I’ll certainly run into distant friends (can there be such a category) who don’t even realize I’ve left.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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