Sandra Arlene River
Feb. 22, 1950-May 12, 2012
Just a week before she passed away, I introduced Sandy to David Quammen at the Sowell Collection Conference, and I said, as I always did, “This is my good friend Sandy.” I told David that Sandy had been on the conference steering committee because I wanted to acknowledge her role in the conference’s success. Sandy demurred, insisting she hadn’t done very much. But she had, in fact, done a great deal. Months earlier, when I asked Sandy to help me, she agreed, but said she wasn’t sure what she could do that would be of any use. She’d do anything I wanted, except make phone calls. As I remember it, my reply was: “When I’m completely stressed, and we both know I will be, you can help by giving me a good talking to.” That’s what she did. I called her frequently during the months leading up to the conference and I was in her office in the Architecture Library at least four or five times in the two weeks immediately preceding it, just talking out my worries—travel, publicity, menus for the banquet, oh my! Each time she listened, sympathized, told me it would probably all work out fine, and if some things went wrong, well, not everything was under my control anyway! Each time we visited, she sent me away with the feeling that I should, and could, get over it and get on with it.
Just a week before she passed away, Sandy was active, engaged, smiling, participating in the intellectual life of the university, being a friend, supporting me during each conference day. She attended almost every Sowell Collection Conference event, including the banquet, where she could not eat, and the entire day of paper sessions on Saturday. I sat beside her during many of the sessions and was so grateful that she came even on her day off.
On Friday, May 4, when I left Sandy’s room in ICU to try to get some work done at the SWC/SCL, I found an envelope with her hand writing in my inbox. In the days between the conference and her last procedure, Sandy found time to send me a copy of Utne Reader with an article about one of the Sowell Collection writers, and her note asked if I was rested yet from the work of conference duties.
Sandy always had time for those small gestures of friendship. I know I wasn’t alone in receiving these kind gifts and attentions. When I went to tell another campus colleague of Sandy’s death, she told me that Sandy had appeared in her doorway unannounced one day, with a present, and singing Happy Birthday. Just thinking of that makes me smile.
Sandy River was a good friend. At times, I hear her voice still talking to me. Still telling me to get over it and get on with it. Her death, so early, is a tragedy, but sharing her life and her enthusiasm for living was a joy. I have missed her these past months and know I will continue to miss her—when I write a letter or report that needs a critical eye, when new movies come out that she might want to see, or when my favorite college basketball team loses a critical game. (Sandy would call me after a loss, saying, “Those boys can’t expect to win if they can’t shoot free throws, and the turnovers!” And then she’d laugh.) I’m grateful to have known her. With her other dear friends and family, I mourn her loss.