Notes, PR 10 (2007)

Remembering Tom Shaw as Teacher, Scholar, Mentor

David M. Bethea

     The thing I remember most about Tom Shaw over the years is his generos­ity, his willingness to do the “heavy lifting” without commenting on it. Per­haps it has something to do with coming from a modest background, going through the Second World War, being the “go-to guy” when the profession was establishing itself in the 1950s during the Sputnik era. We all know that Tom took great pride in being a rigorous scholar, someone who would insist that his own work and the work of colleagues meet certain stan­dards. He always said he wanted our work to be looked on seriously by col­leagues in Russia/the Soviet Union. And in this connection one of the things he was most proud of was the splash made in Russia by his dis­covery of the “Mniszek sonnet” in Boris Godunov. His edition of Pushkin’s letters is truly a foundational text we all come back to again and again to learn things about Pushkin’s life and affairs.

     Having said all this, however, what Tom did behind the scenes to help the profession mature may be his greatest contribution: his tireless work as the first and most important editor of SEEJ, his prompt and copious responses to anyone needing his advice on Pushkin and other matters, his training of a generation of scholars. Back in 1987, when I was a younger scholar several years beyond tenure and Tom was a very senior scholar a couple of years away from retirement, we organized a big conference to­gether in Madison commemorating the 150th anniversary of Pushkin’s death. We raised money from extramural funding agencies, we got various sectors of the campus involved in the festivities, and we invited scholars from all over the world to participate. It was a major undertaking and, again, Tom did most of the “heavy lifting,” and this at a time in his own professional life when most people want to be left alone to do their research and teach their classes. (He had also been chairing the department into his late sixties.) When it came time to put together a book project based on the conference, Tom as usual did lots of careful reading and advising. However, the moment the manuscript was ready to submit to a press, Tom told me to cite myself as sole editor. He said that distinction would help me more than it would him. And that is Tom Shaw in a nutshell.




James Bailey

     As an undergraduate I majored in comparative literature with some inter­est in Russian literature in translation. When I arrived at Indiana Univer­sity in Bloomington for my graduate studies, I met Professor J. Thomas Shaw (henceforth just Tom) and Professor Michael Ginsburg, who was an émigré from St. Petersburg. They persuaded me to change from compara­tive literature to an MA in Slavic. Thus through a small coincidence in 1957 began my career in Slavic. During the academic year 1958–59 I was an exchange student at Moscow State University under the first year of the cultural exchange. While there, I bought and mailed Tom many books which were cheap and available in the many used book stores (bukinisty) in Moscow. In fact, over time I bought and mailed him the entire Brokgauz encyclopedia and the huge Academy edition of Pushkin’s works. Thus we both succumbed to that Russian scholar’s disease of buying tons of books and stuffing our homes with them.

     During the following years I kept in contact with Tom after he moved to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he organized one of the major programs in Slavic languages in America. Tom brought me to Madi­son for an interview when the Slavic Department was still in a ramshackle house on the spot where the huge business school now stands. And Tom hired me just before the department in 1967 moved into the new foreign languages building, Van Hise Hall, otherwise known as the Tower of Babel.

     Besides being an excellent administrator, a fine advisor, and a rare and tactful Southern gentleman, Tom was a born editor. During all the wonderful years we were together and no matter how busy he was, Tom was always willing to read everything I wrote. The last time he obliged me was in June 2006. Thus almost from the beginning to the present I have been grateful to Tom for the way he guided my career through the Slavic field. In particular I appreciate the wonderful sense of collegiality he cre­ated in our department.




Christine A. Rydel 

     When I first began to apply to graduate schools in the mid-1960s, I consid­ered two universities: Wisconsin and Indiana. Indiana gave me the funds to study what I wanted and off I went to Bloomington. Had I chosen the other path, I am sure that my life would have turned out differently. But of course, we non-counseled, rather unsophisticated undergraduates at that time had heard of neither J. Thomas Shaw of Wisconsin nor Edward J. Brown of Indiana; and of course, no one as yet had heard of the brash, young Carl R. Proffer of Indiana. Therefore we made our choices in the dark. So I fell under their influence and not Tom Shaw’s—except through reading all of his work on Pushkin and collecting his books on rhyme.

     In 1985–87 I was on an extended leave of absence after a sabbatical and was living in my unheated Wisconsin “dacha” on Lake Koshkonong. Before I arrived I had written Tom Shaw to ask whether I would be able to use the university library and take out books. Imagine my surprise—for I still did not know him—when he arranged for me to have a faculty pass with all privileges, including use of interlibrary loan, for the entire dura­tion of my stay. When I met him, he welcomed me as if I were part of his department or even as warmly as if I were a member of his family. During the two years I stayed in Wisconsin, he invited me to department holiday parties, film and slide presentations, and even arranged for me to come and listen to the presentations and take part in the celebrations connected with the Pushkin Conference held at the university in honor of the 150th anniversary of the poet’s death.

     During my stay, Tom Shaw presented me with copies of his books; and even after I left, he continued to send me more. When I returned to my position at my institution, I kept in touch with Tom Shaw and we met occa­sionally for lunch at what I presume was his favorite restaurant, The Ovens of Brittany (alas, now gone). At one luncheon, he asked in passing whether I would be willing to take up a project that really did not interest him. When I just as breezily said something as mundane as “sure,” the con­versation immediately veered off in another direction. Because of that non­chalant, ten-second question-and-answer interlude, I had the chance to edit four weighty tomes. In all of my years in academics, I have never known as generous and kind a person as Tom Shaw, and all wrapped up in a genuine scholar and mentoring professor. I am grateful that I had the op­portunity to fall under Tom Shaw’s influence and benefit from his wisdom and guidance after all.




Cynthia Simmons

     I would like to add my voice to those of my colleague Slavists who have ex­pressed and continue to express their gratitude to Tom Shaw for his unique, generous, at times selfless, contributions to our field—to the De­partment of Slavic Languages and Literature at UW-Madison, the ad­vancement of Pushkin studies in the United States, our professional organization and journal; one could go on. I am personally grateful that Tom Shaw saw some potential in me in the job market of 1980, and that, as chair in my early years in the Department, he made it possible for me to thrive. And I must not forget his mentorship on proper style in English, and the limited modifiers possible for the truly “unique.”



Judith Deutsch Kornblatt 

     Tom Shaw has been a mentor to me since I came to Wisconsin twenty years ago. In retirement, as before, he was always ready for a “working” lunch, to read something I had written, and to lend a helping hand. And he is the one who taught me an important lesson (that, alas, I often neglect): Bow to the ideas of your intellectual rivals as well as your supporters in the first few paragraphs of any article.  How wise he is.




Angela Brintlinger 

     When I entered the UW Slavic program in the autumn of 1987, I was part of the “last generation” of students directly influenced by Tom Shaw. Professor Shaw taught me in my first graduate seminar—on Pushkin’s lyrics—and I still remember his drawl (“Ms. Brintlinger, would you like to take this poem? Mr. Voss, why don’t you read this next stanza?”) and his gentle teaching methods, making suggestions, nudging us, but letting us try our wings with analyzing the Pushkin texts he knew so well. That spring was Professor Shaw’s last before retirement, and when I teach Pushkin or indeed any graduate seminar now, I still think of the twelve or fifteen seminar papers we produced and discussed with him, his insistence on our serious engagement with the original texts and the Academy edi­tion, his scholarly rigor and gentlemanly mentorship as we began our ca­reers in Slavic studies.

     Much later, in the mid- to late 1990s, when I was ferrying books back and forth between Professor Shaw and the Pushkin House in St. Peters­burg, I addressed him in my usual way. “No,” he said, “call me Tom. You’re not a student any more; now we’re equals.”


Download: Bethea, David, et al. “Remembering Tom Shaw as Teacher, Scholar, Mentor.” Pushkin Review 10 (2007): 155 – 58.