Remembering Sally Livingston

Remarks from:
Linda Mitchell, current SMFS President
Liz Herbert McAvoy, President Emerita of SMFS
Melissa Ridley Elmes, Vice-President of SMFS

 

N.b. Sally’s family has established a permanent page where remembrances are being posted at http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/masslive/sally-a-livingston-condolences/190434768?cid=full

We also invite those SMFS members who would do so to submit their own comments and memories of Sally here on the SMFS website, using the “comment” function on this page, above.

 

To say that Sally Livingston was one of the most extraordinary leaders of SMFS is quite an understatement. Sally started her academic career in the 1960s, then went on to become one of the leaders of women’s empowerment in the corporate world, and ultimately returned to academia to complete her Ph.D. at Harvard, which she accomplished in 2008. It was also around that time that Sally got involved in SMFS and she took on the role of Vice-President and President, I believe at the urging of Elizabeth A. R. (Peggy) Brown. I, like Liz in her remembrance of Sally below, met her at my first Advisory Board meeting and she quickly recruited me to become more involved with the organization as chair of the engagement committee, and then as a candidate for VP.

Sally was generous, toughminded, direct, and kind. Her determination to make SMFS both more visible and more engaged led her to push us all to be better feminists, to be more inclusive, and to reach out to a myriad of underrepresented populations in the world of medieval studies. I could not have learned from a better mentor.

Many of us knew that she was struggling with her cancer diagnosis, which came so damned soon after she achieved tenure and promotion at Ohio Wesleyan. I am personally grateful to Bonnie Wheeler for keeping everyone in the loop as to her situation, and when she moved to hospice, and when she passed away.

Melle Ridley Elmes and I are working with the Advisory Board to honor Sally as only the SMFS membership can.

Firstly, we are planning a special issue of Medieval Feminist Forum devoted to topics in history and comparative literature that were particularly dear to her. Liz Herbert McAvoy has agreed to co-edit the special issue with me and we will be letting everyone know more about this when we have the focus and description finalized.

Secondly, we are working on developing a fund for nontraditional feminist graduate students and scholars–those who are returning or have turned to academia later in life–to provide conference travel money for such colleagues. More info on that will be announced later in the year and at the annual business meeting at Kalamazoo in May 2019.

Thirdly, we are planning on dedicating both the business meeting and the SMFS annual banquet to Sally. This means we will have wine (of course!) and opportunities for sharing Sally memories at the business meeting, and then we can really celebrate her life and work in style at the banquet.

Finally, we are planning on sponsoring sessions at Kalamazoo 2020 in honor of Sally and hope also to link those to the special issue of MFF.

For now, remember Sally in your thoughts and (if you do this) prayers. She was a model citizen, a model medievalist, and a model feminist. And she will be sorely missed.

-Linda Mitchell, President of SMFS

 

Sally Livingston and I bonded across the table in a room in Fetzer Hall, somewhere around 2010 during an SMFS board meeting, as two late-comers into academia. We chatted about the joys and difficulties of making that late entry, the passions it allowed us to follow and the formidable changes it had wrought in our lives. I received a tenure position in my early fifties, Sally in her early sixties and we felt a strong kinship in the knowledge that our entry into academia had been encouraged, supported and smoothed by the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship and its unstinting support of our endeavours. Sally’s leadership skills, kindness, vision and empathetic interactions with others soon drew her inexorably to the presidency of the Society, which she exercised most memorably with care, diligence, compassion, and not just a little steeliness in her determination to change the academic world for the better. Above all, she brought a deep sense of wisdom and the need for political engagement in a rapidly changing world, along with the imperative for measured action and understanding, knowing instinctively when to compromise and when to push forward with change or protest. I learned so much from her example. Sally’s untimely loss is inestimable and we deeply mourn her passing. As the best of role-models for us all, we must aim collectively to keep her legacy vigorously alive.

–Liz Herbert McAvoy, President Emerita of SMFS

 

Sally Livingston’s generosity of spirit and of scholarship, support and empathy for early-career and non-traditional researchers, and passion for feminist initiatives rooted in the belief that we can and must help the Academy improve in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, are the elements of her career as SMFS President that do, and will, render her legendary among medieval feminist scholars. But it is Sally as a person–kind, hilarious, and as Liz notes above, steely in her determination to leave this world better than she found it, that come most readily to mind when I think of her. I recall many conversations in which we were doubled-over laughing, many encouraging conversations in which she shared with me, a non-traditional scholar, her own nontraditional student’s path into the Academy, and many discussions in which her joy at being surrounded by a strong group of like-minded women, seeing that community grow and flourish, was palpable, and contagious. When I set out to be a medievalist, it hadn’t yet occurred to me that my work could be, or should be, explicitly feminist. My doctoral advisor, Amy Vines, recommended that I look up the SMFS folks at my first Zoo as a PhD student, reasoning that this might be an opportunity to network with other women in the Academy, even if I didn’t feel my own scholarship was especially feminist in nature. Sally Livingston was one of the first members I met, and she encouraged me from the get-go to become more invested, suggesting that since I was a new doctoral student, I should run for the Advisory Board as a graduate student member to become more involved. I did so and was fortunate to serve the community in that capacity, an opportunity that opened my eyes to the important work that SMFS was doing. From there, Sally encouraged me to take even greater steps into the organization’s leadership, first as a regular Ad Board member and then, as an Executive Officer. I doubt I would have had the courage, the conviction, or the desire, to step into these leadership roles without Sally’s mentoring, support, and encouragement. The memory I will cherish most going forward is of Sally at the SMFS Business Meeting, her arms raised in a gesture of triumph, fists clenched, as she spoke to a packed room, her voice full of emphasis, delight, and pride: “Medieval feminist studies is alive and well!” In her name, honor, and spirit, may we ensure that it remains so going forward.

–Melissa Ridley Elmes, Vice-President of SMFS:

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