R.I.P. — Professor Alexandra “Misty” Jaffe

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Yesterday evening, I checked my e-mail account at school and found an announcement from a colleague in another department that the professor who has done the most to keep my spirits up during the past dozen years of adversity, in the College of Liberal Arts at CSULB, died this past Tuesday. Alexandra “Misty” Jaffe was a colleague in the most complete sense of the word. Not only was she an scholar who contributed to the conversation in her field, she empowered all of us who worked with her on various committees that define the notion of self-governance in academic life. Many people outside of academia do not understand, for instance, that faculty serve as a de facto human resources department in the institutional life of higher education. Faculty, in fact, evaluate the performances of those who hold esteemed rank in the educational bureaucracy. Misty Jaffe never hesitated to serve on committees that were fraught with the potential for unexpected consequences. She possessed an unflinching integrity. Not only did she have the most vigorous intellect that I have encountered in my professional life, but she had a generosity of spirit and a kind ear that was always ready to reassess any suggestion I might have for how to improve things on campus, and then to reassure me that my request for her valuable time was not a hindrance to her own needs as a teacher and scholar.

My friend Brooks Roddan once quoted a quip he’d heard: “The graveyard’s full of irreplaceable people.” The wit of that line wiggles in the turn of events in which it does turn out that most people can be replaced much more easily than we would like to fantasize. In the case of “Misty” Jaffe, I see no way that she can be replaced in my professional life. There is no one else at CSULB who has my trust to the degree that she did. There are a handful of others who do continue to inspire me, but there is not enough time left in my life to build a shared history with someone else on committees that affect the entire college.

Her death comes only days after the first anniversary of my sister-in-law’s death, and now this time of year has become even more heartbreaking. Since I have been on sabbatical, I have not been on campus much and have had little contact with others at CSULB, and so had no warning whatsoever that she was confronting her peremptory mortality. I know I am not the only one who feels this loss in a manner that might strike others as extravagant in my praise; so be it, for like all gifts to our lives, the return aches with reluctance, and this one pierces. Maybe we need to learn to say “farewell” with all the spices of appreciation well in advance of the departures.