On Saturday, November 7, a dear friend and colleague, David T. Bailey, passed away. I always find it difficult to write about friends who have left us. I can write the straight forward — like about his digital work in a blog post for Matrix. I will just make a few notes; difficult to sum up nearly 20 years. He was an amazing supporter of the digital humanities and Matrix. I always enjoyed working on projects with him. He could be frustrating in that he never answered an email but I think he did that because he wanted you to come and see him in person. And that is the thing I enjoyed most.
When I would go over to history, I would always peer down his hall to see if his door was open and light on. One would start at the door talking and leaning on the door frame and at some point move to sitting in the comfortable leather chair, although, more often than not, someone else would already be in the chair. He would always turn in his chair and fold his arms across his chest. It was always easy to talk to him. Never awkward or forced. It could be about breaking news, a sporting event, advice on handling problems and who to talk to (he knew everyone at MSU), or about family. He always liked to ask about the kids.
Granted he did most of the talking, but he had an uncanny way of engaging you; you were always important and what you said was important. And it would always surprise you what he would know. My son is an actor and David knew all the theaters, acting companies, and productions in New York City and could talk about them in great detail. He loved musical theater and had a very large collection that he let my son borrow. He sent my son a play he had written (David had several staged readings of his plays at the Riverwalk). He always gave more, much more, than then he took.
In summer of 2013, we had a wonderful opportunity to do a two-week workshop at the University of Bahia in Brazil. David went with us along with my daughter. Since he did not teach all of the workshop sessions, he spent time with my daughter. David, my daughter, and I also spent one day going to art museums and markets. It was simply a wonderful day. The next summer, he joined my daughter and I for lunch to catch up with her and see how she was doing in college. I think one of the reasons he was such a great teacher is that he enjoyed engaging with young minds and watching (and nurturing) their development. He cared.
Now when I look down the hall and see his door shut, the hall dark, I know that we, the History Department, MSU, have lost something irreplaceable.
Yet we always have to remember his good humor and love of the game. There is a wonderful line in David’s play, The Shortstop, said by an old baseball manager, that I think sums things up nicely—it is not about the end result but the trying, engagement and becoming: “Winning is overrated. I learned that cause we never won. But I will say this. You gotta put the best team out there you can. Maybe they are destined for the cellar, maybe not. But when the phony patriots are finished with the damn song, and the flag is put away, and the ump brushes the plate, and the kid with the ball looks down from the mound, ain’t nobody wants to be any place but there, on the field, playing ball. And ain’t nobody out there to lose.”