In October 2016, IDAH Associate Director Clara Henderson passed away. Dr. Ruth Stone, past IDAH Director, shares this tribute:
Clara quoted the words of T.S. Eliot from The Four Quartets in her master’s thesis:
“I said to my soul be still and wait. . .
So the darkness shall be light
And the stillness the dancing.”
Clara relished both the contemplative and the active. She looked forward to adventures, challenges, trips, ideas, and the chance to bring faculty members, students, and staff together in new and novel ways. Her last work title announced that she was the Associate Director of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities or IDAH. But that was a broad cover for her to create settings where people could work collaboratively on the edges of knowledge.
Think of her as creating an academic and artistic salon. In it she became an impresario who was always imagining new ways to create relationships, nurture scholarship, and perfect a grant application to make it successful. She loved to set the scene and then sit back and let things happen. She might be taking notes, but she was also actively thinking, prodding and plotting in how to make everyone she touched smarter, better, more innovative together.
To that end, for example, she managed the summer workshops for the EVIA Digital Archives project between Indiana and University of Michigan with Mellon Foundation funding. On summer weekends she would keep the participants working on their computers in the Brown County woods during the day, and performing music together at night. At national and international meetings she brought them together again to keep thinking and developing plans for projects.
Clara was comfortable working with faculty who sought her advice in writing their grants in the arts and humanities. She provided incisive and tough comments. She nurtured and praised them. And she celebrated when they were successful.
Clara, a fine scholar in her own right, had conducted research in Malawi in dance performance, and had written a prize-winning dissertation. This research experience provided the grounding and foundation for her work life in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. She navigated across disciplines, connecting faculty fellows who came from different schools, and often worked in far flung countries. She excelled in making welcoming space for those wanting to push the boundaries of research. If this meant providing a meal or hosting a reception to make this happen—all the more fun. Clara valued people working together, wrestling with and creating new knowledge.
Clara worked tirelessly to make the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, and by extension Indiana University, an international place of true research excellence, filled with innovative technology. Those of us who worked closely with her were familiar with the emails that were time-stamped two or three o’clock in the morning. Of course, we also knew that her morning tennis time was sacred and we were safe from a deluge of requests until that was over.
As we mourn her passing from us too soon, we can hold onto the words she gave us from T.S. Eliot. We need to be still and wait so the darkness shall be light and the stillness the dancing. We can also remember the words of Lizzie Namwali—a Malawian dancer with whom Clara worked. Lizzie said we “. . . form a circle so that we can dance freely and with joy.”
Thanks, Clara, for showing us what it means to give joyfully, selflessly and endlessly for the common good.
--Ruth M. Stone