It was a month into spring, but it felt like winter on the day I heard Professor Tilly was no more. I longed to take a sprig of spring flowers to his room and lay it at the door for him, but could not. The emptiness was too much where his brilliance, his smile and his humility had wrapped around us with such care.
My thoughts go back to the first paper I wrote for him as a starting graduate student. I had carefully extricated all the macro structures I claimed led to a revolution. “How do you connect these structures to the specific actors of the revolution?” he asked me, and thus began my journey as an ethnographer, studying processes from the “bottom up”.
We, his students were a privileged lot. He placed so many safety nets for us, with his grueling work ethic, his towering intellect that could cut through many layers of thought to the core of the problem in a few minutes, his incredible integrity and his deep sense of fairness. If he had any favorites, none of us knew it. He celebrated and built on our strengths. We were all equally important. His room was a place of refuge from which we emerged with new energy and inspiration.
Viviana Zelizer speaks of Professor Tilly as the first gift giver, yes, he was always the first giver and yet he gave with such subtlety and grace that I realize the depth of his giving only after his death. The absence and loss comes to me at unexpected moments in a million little ways, sometimes too deep for words.
Deeply beloved mentor and father, what I am and will be intellectually, began with you.
Francesca Bremner (Ph.D. 2005, Columbia University)