Over the weekend, I learned that one of my former doctoral professors, Russell Geen, had passed away. Russ was one of two social psychologists on faculty at what was then the Department of Psychology at University of Missouri-Columbia (or Mizzou as we like to call it). When I came on board as a doctoral student, Russ was near retirement and was neither taking on new students nor agreeing to sit on thesis or dissertation committees. My advisor at the time made that point crystal clear to me.
Russ was still handling some editorial chores, was actively writing, and actively teaching. It was in that last capacity that I probably got to know him best. He offered a course on Motivation from time to time. I got the pleasure of sitting in on that seminar in 1996 during the winter semester. What I remember most from that particular course was Russ's demeanor. Unlike a lot of people who might be considered big names in their particular research domains, Russ was humble and down-to-earth. He wasn't much for jargon, or for droning on about his h-index or any of that nonsense. He just struck me as a guy who really enjoyed sharing what he knew and showing the rest of us some paths for discovering that knowledge ourselves. In some ways, the course almost came across as a history of motivation research. Given Russ's penchant for the history of psychology in general. I may have first learned about some of the juicier details of the early history of the department in that class - turns out one of the early founders of what eventually became Frustration-Aggression Theory was a Mizzou alum. I don't know directly what he was like in the lab, but a friend of mine who was his last doctoral student referred to Russ as a bit of a taskmaster. My friend was not complaining. I got the impression that they had developed a great working relationship and friendship.
Russ and his wife Barbara held a gathering for social psych area students (and spouses) and faculty around the start of each year during my first two or three years I was a student at Mizzou. Their house was a stately two-story house located in an upscale historical district in CoMo. Even with the impressive digs and the impressive spread of food and beverages they'd had catered, the event seemed very down-to-earth. We'll just say it always appeared to me that a good time was had by all.
My one regret was not formally taking the history of emotion theory and research seminar he offered in early 1999. I did audit it, and did sit in on a few sessions. One of the reasons I know that one can find a coherent theory of emotion in Homer's epic poems is thanks to one of those sessions. He did warn that the history of emotion theory and research was as messy as actual emotion. He was right about that. At the time, I was dividing my attention between doing the groundwork for a dissertation prospectus as I transitioned between advisors, finishing up some lab chores in Anderson's lab before he headed to greener pastures at Iowa State, and my work as a TA and lab instructor. Along with parenting a toddler, I had my hands a bit full. I had to choose my battles wisely.
Russ was one of a handful of friendly faces at an R-1 institution notorious for less-than-friendly faces. If I passed him in a hallway or somewhere around town, I could always count on a greeting and some conversation. I still keep in my personal library the two editions of the text on aggression that Russ authored, as well as several books on aggression that he co-edited. I am saddened by his passing. He was genuinely one of the good ones, and at times they seem to be a bit few and far between.
Note: The image comes from here. It is the one that we would have seen on one of the walls of McAlester Hall where the photos of all of the faculty were put on display.