Remembering Josh Stein PDF Print E-mail
By David London   
Friday, 26 April 2013 02:18
A celebration of the life and legacy of the late RWU professor
A celebration of the life and legacy of the late RWU professor

Penney Stein and Dr. Donald Farish, Roger Williams                University president, at the memorial service for Josh Stein.  /David LondonPenney Stein and Dr. Donald Farish, Roger Williams University president, at the memorial service for Josh Stein. /David LondonBRISTOL – “Josh has not died,” said Dr. Donald Farish, president of Roger Williams University. Farish was speaking, of course, of the late Joshua Stein, professor of history for 43 years, at an RWU memorial and celebration service.

“He was a great teacher,” said Farish, “and the best teachers live on in the lives of their students.”

The Rhode Island Jewish community may remember Josh best for his popular column, “From the Old Olivetti,” in this newspaper, and his involvement in many local Jewish organizations.

His Sept. 8, 2012 death, after an 18-year battle with cancer, was also a great loss to his university colleagues, students and friends who turned out in force to honor him and share their remembrances. The April 14 event was hosted by the Office of Advancement and moderated by Reverend Nancy Hamlin Soukup, the university multifaith chaplain.

“Josh was so ingrained in the life of the [history] department and the university, that it doesn’t seem like he’s gone – just out of the office at the moment,” said Jeffrey Meriwether, associate professor of history. 

Paul Perry, ’01, a former student of Stein’s, added, “We are all better and wiser for having known him.”

Calling Stein “my mentor,” Assistant Professor of History Sargon Donabed marveled at Stein’s strength, even during his last days. The history department was organizing a big conference; although Donabed visited Stein just two weeks before his death, he recounted what Stein said: “We really need to discuss it – there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Professor Stein was a gifted and inspiring teacher, always prepared, always challenging students with the hard questions,” said James Tackach, an English professor.

Describing a course he team-taught with Stein on Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust narratives, “The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day,” Tackach said, “Josh was a fountain of information and knowledge about the Holocaust and the Jewish rites and rituals that are so important a part of Wiesel’s texts. [We] learned much from the experience.”

Tackach also shared some humorous experiences he and Stein had in co-authoring “Fields of Summer: America’s Great Ballparks and the Players Who Triumphed in Them” (Crescent Books, 1992). Audience reaction made it clear that Josh’s sense of humor was no secret to them!

In a more solemn moment, Tackach quoted from Plato’s “Apology”: “Socrates is standing trial for his life … likely [to] be convicted and sentenced to death.  But that grim prospect hardly phases him, because … ‘[N]o evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.’”

Tackach continued, “For many years, Josh suffered from a disease that ravaged his body and would eventually take his life, but that disease did not harm him or do him evil.  Did it sap him of his humanity? No!  Did it diminish his intellectual enthusiasm or curiosity? Of course not.  Did it negate his sense of humor?  Not a chance.  Arguably, the battle with cancer brought out some of Josh’s best qualities:  love, friendship, acceptance, courage.

“All of those wonderful qualities were sharply in evidence the last time that I saw Josh, a few weeks before he died.  Although the illness had damaged his body, his spirit remained untouched.

“Socrates was right. No evil can come to a good man.  We honor this good man today and celebrate his good life and his good works.”

Of his former professor, Kolby Martineau, ’12, said, “[He was], by far the most intelligent human being I have ever met; I never felt so loved … for asking a question.” Martineau added that Stein positively influenced the growth of the history department and the university’s religious, academic and social life. 

Martineau once asked Josh, “How can you be a historian and know the facts and still be religious?” 

He recounted Josh’s reply: “Faith and religion are not about what you know, they are about what you believe. Sometimes having faith is just as important as having knowledge.”

Paraphrasing Isaiah 2:2, Martineau said, “Surely Josh has been called home and found his place on the mountain of the Lord.”

The final speaker, Josh’s widow Penney Stein, interspersed light and amusing anecdotes with thoughtful, even serious, remembrances. Some of her remarks were nods to many of Josh’s well-known loves and foibles, some were unknown little factoids, some penetrating observations.

She recounted his love of baseball and classical music as well as his highly successful hoaxes he perpetrated on readers of his column and his weekly Shabbat Shalomagram, an email missive sent to more than 200 friends, family members and colleagues. Those hoaxes included his appearance in the 1964 Olympics, a stint as a minor league pitcher, being gored by a yak in Korea, sitting in the owners’ box at Foxboro Stadium, and this writer’s personal favorite, his run for Congress.

Josh kept a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” in his car’s glove compartment, in case he was stuck in traffic, Penney recounted, as well as telling the audience that teaching gave him energy – even when he was sick, he looked better after a hard day of teaching. Quoting her late husband – who loved a good argument – she said, “The nice thing about knowing you’re going to die soon, is that you get to say goodbye to your friends.”

And, in a tribute to Josh’s signature sign-off, Penney concluded by thanking the organizers of the service, the speakers and the guests: “Be strong and resolute – I send you my love.”

VISIT to learn more about Josh Stein.

DAVID LONDON ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), a Providence resident, is an occasional contributor to this paper.


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