(This week, historians across Canada are mourning the loss of an exceptional person and colleague, Jarrett Rudy (McGill), who passed away at his home in Montréal on 4 April 2020).
Jarrett and I were the same age, both born in the fall of 1970. Over the 20 years that we knew each other and worked together on various projects, our shared age always seemed to me to be something that linked us, as historians: it gave us, I always thought, a common vantage point from which to assess the past and observe the present. We drew on the same pool of historical and cultural references and, like Gen-Xers everywhere, we shared an appreciation for irony and a slight suspicion of dominant groups and narratives.
In retrospect, though, I think that the comfort and familiarity between us that I attributed to our shared age owed much more to a shared world-view. We didn’t agree on everything, but we agreed on most things. And we shared, like all of our fellow members of the Montreal History Group, a passion for history, especially social history, and a love of the city, in particular this city, Montréal. As others have noted, Jarrett was the heart of the Montreal History Group, the one who kept us on the rails despite the big and small tragedies that befell our members, who kept us motivated through the long and often arduous process of grant-writing, who broke out the champagne (or the cava) at each group meeting in order to celebrate the accomplishments of our members: books published, theses defended, jobs obtained, babies born.
In the tributes that have been published on-line since Jarrett left us on April 4th, friends and colleagues have rightly remarked upon his enthusiasm, his exuberance, and his generosity: Jarrett and his beloved wife, Cynthia, regularly opened up their home to friends, neighbours, colleagues, and political allies for meetings and celebrations of all sorts. I would like to insist here, though, upon two other qualities that I always admired in Jarrett.
The first was his constant presence. Jarrett showed up – to everything. He was regularly in attendance at conferences and talks at Montréal’s four universities. He came to all of my students’ PhD defences, regardless of their thesis topic. He never missed a meeting of the Canadian Historical Association or the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française. He was a pillar of various Montreal History Group events – May Day, Muffins & Methodology, Jeudis d’histoire – and of the (sometimes dubious) dinners that followed. And his was an active presence: he listened carefully, he took notes, he asked questions, and he always made speakers, whether eminent international scholars or PhD students beginning their thesis research, feel welcome and appreciated.
The other quality upon which I would like to insist was his habit of careful reading. In a field where it is expected that we read widely, Jarrett read deeply. Jarrett and I edited a book series together, and in our regular meetings with our editor and friend Jonathan Crago and with the authors who contributed to our series, I was always struck by the care and attentiveness with which he had read the manuscripts submitted to us. And he was an appreciative and generous reader: Jarrett regularly sent e-mails to colleagues telling them how much he had enjoyed their new article or book and just what it was in this article or book that had particularly intrigued him.
Jarrett liked all means of communication: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. But he especially liked the telephone. I will miss answering the phone, at home or at the office, and hearing his enthusiastic and exclamatory greeting: “Magda!” The irony – and the tragedy – of Jarrett’s death has not been lost on anyone: the person with the biggest heart that any of us have ever known was in the end betrayed by this very same heart. Like everyone who knew Jarrett, I miss him terribly.
Magda Fahrni, Université du Québec à Montréal.