Joseph B. Gittler Award
Remarks by Scott Frankenberger, husband of JoAnn R. L. Miller
This is such an honor for JoAnn. I am grateful to accept this on her behalf, with her much loved grandson Gus beside me. He was the apple of her eye.
I want to tell you all a little about JoAnn's last year. Her peritoneal cancer was discovered in late March, and she passed on Christmas Day. How she spent her time in between was nothing short of remarkable. Those who knew JoAnn well would expect nothing less.
While enduring 18 weeks of chemotherapy, she completed a pet project already underway, to gather up the 15 so-called "orphan" interdisciplinary programs into a proposal for a new school at Purdue, the School for Interdisciplinary Studies. This required untold hours of paperwork and writing to create the document, then shepherding it through committees and signatures, and finally a Board of Trustees approval. Months of effort. And finally, at the end of the Spring 2014 semester, success. And the next step .... who should become the Head of this new school called "SIS"? JoAnn of course. She knew all the moving parts, could hit the ground running, and was in fact the mother of this newborn venture. She was thrilled.
Cancer was never going to define her. She was going to re-define it. She never took her hands off the throttle. She continued to work with her two graduate students, Jennifer Stevens, and Tyrrell Conner, right up until her passing in December, signing off on Tyrrell's grades on December 23. She fought hard as the lead advocate for her colleague, Dr. Rachel Einwohner, for promotion to full against some stubborn opponents, preparing her documents strategically in the way that only a seasoned veteran of promotion committee battles could. She told me emphatically, "if you have to wheel me in on a gurney, I'm going to fight those bastards tooth and nail". Just guess who prevailed.
In addition, we had, in January, planned a 2 week trip to Italy in September, her favorite destination, before we knew of what was to come. We never canceled the trip, hoping against hope. There was an interval between the end of chemo, and an October surgery, that coincided with those dates. The doctor did not say Yes, but neither did he say No. So, we went, and she had the time of her life, seeing Pompeii and Capri for the first times, and Rome again. She seemed so much at peace and happy on this trip. So genuinely happy at times.
Best of all she got to spend time with her son, Jonathan, and grandson Gus, several times over those months. She was the most devoted mother and grandmother you can imagine. When we were all together, the intrusions of academic life came to a halt, and she got to give and get the love she so enjoyed and deserved.
Many of you only know JoAnn the academic. Know that she accomplished so much, in her own unconventional way. She came from a family that discouraged going to college, that warned "... a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". She devoted herself to raising her son Jonathan until age 27, picking up a few college credits on the side during those years. She did not complete her BA until age 29, then her MA at age 31. Her PhD was then completed by age 35. And what she accomplished over the next 30 years was truly staggering. All I can say is this. I was so grateful that she latched on to me, and I was able to spend 27 years with this extraordinary woman and mother. I got to experience that side of her along with her professional career. I will never ever forget.
Thank you for the Joseph B. Gittler award, and the principles it supports, in recognizing her work. The cash part will go toward the scholarship in her name for non-traditional students in the new School for Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue. She was once that student, and she has become a model for what that student may some day achieve, given the chance. Thank you all.