Obituary of Arnold J. Bauer (1931-2015)

arnie_cabeceraArnold J. Bauer—Arnie to just about everyone—passed away on July 30, 2015, after a sudden case of meningitis. He left a huge community of friends and family who valued his sense of humor, passion for conversation, and loyalty. He contributed to Latin American history through wide-ranging and engaging publications and his work as a teacher and mentor in the United States and Chile.

Arnie grew up on a farm in northeast Kansas, the subject of his acclaimed memoir, Time’s Shadow: Remembering a Family Farm in Kansas (2012). The question of how people worked the land, organized themselves, and related to broader society underlay much of his work. The US Air Force took him to Morocco in 1953, sparking an interest in travel and language and a distrust of US Cold War rhetoric and policies. The GI Bill allowed him to study in Mexico (at what became the Universidad de las Ame´ricas), the beginning of his fascination with Latin America (1). After several years of unsatisfying work as a salesman and bohemian life in San Francisco (he held a cocktail party to celebrate the Cuban Revolution), he entered graduate school at UC Berkeley in 1964. (He was initially turned down but talked his way in with the aid of James King.) He fell in love with Chile when conducting research there, a romance that continued to the end of his life. He taught at UC Davis from 1970 until retirement in 2005 and ran the University of California program in Santiago, Chile, for five years.

Arnie was a bon vivant, talented vintner (his Dos Patos wine fueled many social engagements in his beloved Yolo County), and passionate conversationalist. The house that he built with his own hands with the late Ward Stavig and others on Road 96 was the site of many lively meals over the decades, hosting distinguished guests such as Eric Hobsbawm and Fidel Castro’s brother-in-law. He loved irony and contradictions and had several endearing ones of his own. Decades ago he lost much of his hearing in one ear and thus always preferred to sit outside, even in winter, to avoid crowd noise. Nonetheless, even though he often struggled to catch every word, he had a fine ear for language (etymology delighted him) and all types of conversation. Arnie had no patience with precious academic prose, bureaucratic obfuscations, or just about anything written or said that he deemed pretentious. He considered himself an “accidental academic” because of his farm background and always downplayed his accomplishments, but he was a keen reader, extraordinary editor, and deep intellectual, without any of the pretension. I owe him a great debt, as he encouraged and guided me and read just about every word I have ever published. I fondly remember his nudges to push further into everyday life or his critique of my writing, including one marginal comment that my verbose introduction read like a “badly translated national anthem.”

Chile had a special place in his heart: he always lauded Chileans’ fine sense of humor, their ability to break bread even among political enemies, and the scenic valleys and coastal ranges that he so loved to visit. In 2005 the Chilean government granted him the Order of Merit Gabriela Mistral (Orden al Merito Docente y Cultural Gabriela Mistral), Chile’s highest honor for foreigners, for his contributions to education and culture. On April 10, 2016, Chile commemorated him in a ceremony that he would have loved. His widow, Danielle Greenwood, friends, and students gave tribute to Arnie at the San Jose´ del Carmen hacienda, El Huique, in the Colchagua Valley outside Santiago. After the tribute, we deposited his ashes (not all—some will be spread in Kansas) in the hacienda’s lovely chapel with a plaque that stressed his enduring love affair with Chile.

He is left by Danielle; his daughter, Rebecca; her children Lily, Frank, and George; and his stepchildren Lucy, Jonah, Colby, and Colton. In addition, he had a large community of friends, students, and admirers, many of whom collaborated to create the Arnie Bauer Memorial Fund for Chilean students to study in Davis and for Davis students to conduct research in South America.

1. For stories about Mexico in the 1950s and more biographical detail, see Charles Walker, “Accidental Historian: An Interview with Arnold J. Bauer,” The Americas 69, no. 4 (2013): 493–507. A Spanish translation by Pablo Whipple and Giselle Gibbons can be found on my blog at http://charlesfwalker.com/entrevista-con-arnold-bauer

* The obituary was published in The Hispanic American Historical Review 96.4 (November 2016): 714-6.


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