In Loving Memory of Dirk Held

Emily Morse ’05, Dirk Held and Emily Huebscher Meyer ’05.

Emily Morse ’05, Dirk Held and Emily Huebscher Meyer ’05.

I met Professor Held my freshman year. He taught my Freshman Seminar on Socrates, a Wednesday-Friday at 9 AM class that was always inconvenient to attend despite it being only three flights of steps away. Always stumbling in with early morning fog in our heads, we would walk in to see Professor Held sporting a warm smile, poking fun at how hungover we looked or saying something along the lines of, “Hey, nice pajamas.” We would proceed to delve into the world of ancient philosophy and Socratic dialogues as Professor Held effortlessly explained the ins and outs of each text while opening up the class for discussions. Always patient, supportive and funny, Professor Held miraculously made ancient philosophy and 9 AM a perfect pairing.

I always promised myself that I would take another class with Professor Held. As the years whizzed past and I realized that I actually had to fulfill requirements and even pick a major, the prospects for engaging with him in the classroom once more seemed to be slipping away. Through it all, though, our relationship remained intact. We would stop and chat in Fanning whenever we would pass one another and catch up (and it was never awkward!). He had a firm handshake and always seemed genuinely enthused to hear about what was happening in my life. Even though we never met again in class, we maintained a strong bond outside of it.

Additionally, Professor Held was instrumental in restructuring the Arabic program at Conn and was always reaching out to me and my classmates, inquiring how the department could help us achieve our aims. Though he was an unlikely ally in bringing a stable Arabic curriculum to our school, he was passionate about his pursuits and completely committed. Without Professor Held, Connecticut College would not be nearly as far along in establishing a stable Arabic program.

Professor Held was a friend and a mentor to me. Our relationship, in my opinion, epitomized the small liberal arts college experience. Although I wasn’t a classics major and I was only in one class of his during my freshman year, we kept in touch and sustained a valuable friendship throughout my years at Conn. He was one of the only constants during my career at this school, and I could always count on a good pat on the back and a benevolent smile whenever I saw him. I will miss him greatly.

- Ethan Harfenist ’12

Last night I learned that Professor Dirk Held passed away. My immediate reaction was shock – this was a man who was supposed to live forever. His spirit was so young and vibrant. He fit right in with us when we, the classics majors of the class of 2005, went for pizza. He’d run into us at Cro and ask how we were doing—but he never meant studies or small talk. He cared deeply about his students and right now I can only hope that he knew how deeply his students cared about him.

I remember one day, it must have been March or April, I was with two of my fellow classics majors, Emily Huebscher (now Meyer) and Jeremy Moore, both ’05, on our way into Cro on a break from working on our honors theses. Professor Held was there, and Jeremy told him I was on the verge of a breakdown. Writer’s block had hit hard and an illness that I had refused to share with any of my instructors was hitting harder. I’ll always remember the words Professor Held said: “Relax, baby, relax!”  It was jovial and kind and it made me—made us—laugh. It wasn’t long before I confessed my illness to him. I’d never wanted special treatment. But I realized then, in his office at the very top of Fanning Hall, trying to catch my breath from all of those stairs, that Professor Held had probably known all along. He tried to act surprised. He wasn’t.

But he was generous with me. I was the Editor-in-Chief of the College Voice in my junior and senior years. We closed the paper on Thursdays, and there were nights when I didn’t get back to my room until 7 AM. So you can see why when one of my required classes—a 300 level Latin class—was only offered on Fridays at 11, I freaked out. But to Professor Held, the solution was simple—he offered to do an independent study with me. A lot of professors might have told me to suck it up, to step down from my position on the paper, maybe. Professor Held got it, though. He got that I wanted to be a writer, that I was passionate about my work at the Voice, that I was going to go into the publishing field and that I needed this as much as I needed my Latin class.

I switched majors twice before I chose classics, but I was a classics fangirl from my first semester at Conn. I remember scrambling around the athletic center during orientation. Maybe y’all have electronic registration now, but back then, freshman could only pre-register for two classes and the rest of our schedule was filled during a mad dash á la Hunger Games. I was in a tear-stricken panic with my student advisor when she finally suggested I check out the classics department.  Professor Held was there, smiling. I wanted to sound smart and confident. I felt like I was trying out for something—Survivor: Registration Island, maybe—and if I didn’t impress him he’d snuff out my torch. But my SA nudged me along. There was a freshmen-only Socrates seminar with a few spots left. Flustered, I blurted out something like “I love Socrates! We translated him a lot in my high school Latin class!”

Yeah. Seriously. I’m sure most of you know that a) Socrates did not write, Plato wrote about him and b) he was Greek.

But I got into that class. I met my best Conn friends there in that seminar. And among those friends I do include Professor Held. Who offered to study emotions in classical literature in one-on-one sessions when the seminar I wanted to take was at the same time as yet another Latin class. Who cared deeply enough about my writing career that he came up with some crazy, b.s. letter to the English department to get me into Professor Hay’s 200 level Lit Theory class…even though I hadn’t met the prerequisite requirements. Who understood my passion for music and not only allowed me to write a paper on Dionysus and ’80s hair metal, but encouraged me to do so  (For the record, the paper earned an A. I was so proud.)

I cried in Professor Held’s office on more than one occasion about things I don’t remember. What I do remember is his kind smile, his hearty laugh, his dirty jokes and the fact that he read my music column in the Voice every week. I remember the entire semester we spent on Catullus, in which he taught me not only about the metre and history and literary merit of pieces we were translating, but also told me all about Catullus’ sordid love life and the cheeky innuendoes the poet uses to talk about his lovers’ lady parts.

Last night, in a room with some of my closest friends, I got the email from Conn about Professor Held. Today, I’m heartbroken. I’m looking for someone to talk to who knew his big heart and his love for teaching and the fact that he was the reason we were classics majors and minors. We were his little tribe. We still are, spread out now across the US, doing our own things.

Me, I’m writing full time. And it wasn’t the poetry classes that taught me to write the way I do (although they were invaluable). I sincerely believe that it’s my education as a classicist that matters most. Professor Held gave me the passion and confidence that allows me to write the way I do. He made me brave, unapologetic— whether I’m writing memoir in my first book Dear Teen Me, contemporary fiction, speculative stories or poetry. Professor Held didn’t just teach me Latin and philosophy and history. He taught me to be a student, an observer, a listener, a human sponge for knowledge and experience. And he taught me to do what I love.

“Classics major?” I remember asking the other Emily shortly before declaring. “What will I do with that?” Emily planned on going to rabbinical school, Jeremy would apply to law school. I was clueless. But Emily knew. “You’ll write kids’ books,” she said, like it was so obvious. She was right. Professor Held knew, too, having made time for the newspaper in my academic schedule. And I want everyone to know what it means to be a classics major from Connecticut College, under the tutelege of Dirk Held: it means you can do anything. I swear. I promise.

Professor Held, I miss you. I always thought I’d see you again, but I hope you’re fully enjoying the Elysian fields, perhaps with a mug of Bailey’s and that peanut butter and bacon sandwich you always claimed was delicious. I still don’t believe you.

- Emily Morse ’05

Man is the measure of all things              -Protagoras

How simple of a statement, yet it is so undervalued in our society. The sophist Protagoras spread the idea that the universe is a place in which humans have influence. It revolutionized the idea that people have the capacity to shape their own lives as they see fit. Whether your life is good or bad, it has ultimately fallen upon your shoulders. Professor Dirk Held was the man who taught me the doctrines of Protagoras. He shaped my college career in ways that I couldn’t even begin to understand. He was a man who measured his steps in helpful and beneficial strides. He was a professor who showed respect, concern, and love for his students. We always dream of college as a place where the big change happens. Where we encounter the moment in our lives in which we see a better future for ourselves. I am proud to say that meeting Dirk Held was that moment for me. How strange it is to know that the man I have come to love and respect as much as my own father is no longer here. No longer to share those Friday tuna melts. No longer to talk about his insurmountable love for his grandson and his students. This man who has educated and loved me with all the affections of a father is no longer at my side. However, this does not mean that he is forever gone. He lives on in our hearts. The actions of my future, the way I treat people – all of these things, I firmly believe, have been influenced by him. And as we all take that hesitant step into the future, we all know he is there to guide us. Thank you for everything, Professor.

- Ben Cheung ’12

Dr. Dirk supported the Arabic program and hoped we establish one of the best Arabic programs in the nation. He helped us bring excellent speakers through the Arabic program and the Classics department and he also helped us arrange for extracurricular activities and events throughout the academic year. Dr. Dirk is irreplaceable and we miss him very much. He will always be in the hearts of his students and colleagues.

- Professor Muhammad Masud, Visiting Lecturer of Arabic

Dirk Held was a model teacher-scholar. Among other things, he possessed a capacious intellect; there was hardly anything he hadn’t read, or read about. This boundless concern for the life of the mind enabled Dirk to publish widely and well. Dirk was also fantastic in the classroom: with a dry wit and a charming, avuncular manner, he introduced generations of students to the wonders of the classical world and enriched their lives in the process. Above all else, he was a preternaturally selfless man. Dirk routinely did extra work in order to make things easier for others. And he did this without any complaints. For decades, Dirk was the anchor of the classics department, serving as its chair from 1980 until his passing. With all his extra courses, independent studies, and onerous committee service, he possessed super-human energy.

Dirk was my mentor, both when I was an undergraduate at Connecticut College and beyond. Without him, I would not even have majored in classics. He was my chief vision of what a classics professor was, and I knew I wanted to be like him as an adult. It was only when I became a faculty member, however, that I fully recognized how committed Dirk was to Connecticut College, and how blithely he gave up his time to do more for its students.

There are many memories of Dirk that I shall always cherish. I already miss his guidance, good cheer, and friendship. Thankfully, his spirit will live on in the countless people whose lives he touched.

- Professor Eric Adler, Classics

As someone who came rather late to the classics department, I’m probably less familiar with Professor Held than those dedicated four-year majors. However, as Professor Held was part of my inspiration to join the department as a minor and to do my independent study with him, I’ll try my best to put into words what made him such an incredible professor. Professor Held always struck me as someone who approached his position both as a professor and as a student. To me, he was someone who was never done learning and exploring. In our meetings for my independent study, he would often grill me about what was going on in my Grand Strategy seminar and occasionally ended up sitting in on the class on a few occasions. I think he also realized the importance of exploration in his students’ studies as well. Even though the details of my study changed ten times over the course of my work, he always took my changes in stride and would point in me the right direction. He was incredibly dedicated to the world of classics and realized the importance of a classical education for understanding the modern world. He was someone who realized we shouldn’t ignore the classics simply because they aren’t new or trendy, but we should make them a cornerstone of our education as these ideas are what make us modern. Professor Held will be greatly missed by both his current and past students, as well as all members of the Connecticut College classics department. I can only hope if I ever have the opportunity to teach, I can be as inspiring to my students.

“I like to investigate the value systems of the ancient world, with attention to how they have shaped our own values and how they contrast with them. The modern age learns from both.” - Dirk t. D. Held

- Rebecca Bernbach ’12

On an academic level, what I will always remember about Professor Held was his deep knowledge of ancient philosophy. I had him for my freshman seminar, a class about Socrates, and hence we read quite a bit of Plato. His treatment of the Socratic dialogues was the beginning of my interest in philosophy. I read more Plato with Held in Greek later on; and this academic year I had been working on a thesis about the philosopher. Indeed, I got involved in the Classics department largely under Held’s influence. He was perhaps the most influential professor I have ever had.

On a more personal level, I will always remember Professor Held’s sense of humor. This was evident from the beginning, but came into keener focus in last semester’s class on Plautus, a Latin comic playwright. Almost every line has a joke of some kind, and quite a bit of time was expended discussing the most humorous way to render a pun. He was also a warm person; the Classics department once held a majors/minors event in which students in the department presented regarding their semesters abroad and work. At the end of the presentation, Held stood up and said, (I paraphrase) that it was great to be a professor of Classics because of authors like Aeschylus and Thucydides, but even more so because of the students. And I believe that Held truly believed this, as he taught at the College for more than forty years, and would have gone on for even longer if given the chance.

- Travis Lynch ’12

Dr. Dirk and his wife, Candy Held, were the first two people we met when we came to Connecticut College. We cherish the good times we spent with them and their kindness and hospitality will always be remembered. Dr. Dirk inspired me and supported our move and settling down in New London like a father and a close friend. Right from the beginning of my career here, Dr. Dirk told me that the college is willing to do all it takes to see Arabic flourish here. My experience has been very rewarding and Dr. Dirk’s words of love and support keep us all going. Students of Arabic here are among the best in the nation and they very much appreciate Dr. Dirk’s and the college’s efforts to make this program succeed. We love him so much and without his tremendous efforts and support, the Arabic Program would not have been as successful. His good deeds will always remind us of how wonderful and loving of a person he is.

 – Professor Waed Athamneh, Visiting Lecturer of Arabic

My fondest memories of Professor Held are from anytime that I passed him on campus.  No matter if he was with a group of people, or seemed to be in a rush, he would always stop and have a conversation with me.  These conversations were never particularly deep or intellectual, but they always put me into a significantly better mood than I had been in before.  My most memorable interaction with him is from one of those dreaded rainy and gray New London days.  It was pretty cold, and pouring raining.  I was walking back very quickly from the library with a friend of mine, trying to get home as fast as possible.  Campus was completely deserted, but all of a sudden Professor Held popped out of nowhere.  He stopped in  the torrential down-pour to playfully jeer at our matching purple rain boots, with that classic Professor Held smirk.  All jokes aside, he proceeded to genuinely offer us the umbrella that he was using, citing the fact that there were two of us and only one of him.  Personally, I know that I would never give up my umbrella in that situation, but that is the type of guy that Professor Held was.  He went so far out of his way for any Conn student.

Professor Held’s dedication to the student body was made manifest in his critical role in the Connecticut College Arabic department.  It might seem strange that the head of the Classics Department played such a pivotal role in the creation of a Arabic program, but honestly, without Professor Held, there would not be one.  The amount of time and effort that he put into building a program that was very different than the department that he himself had been working with for the past forty years spoke highly to his character.  I never had a class with Professor Held, but I would definitely credit him as my biggest advocate within the Connecticut College community.  For that, I will always have a very special place for him in my heart.

- Claire Brennan ’13

 

  

5 thoughts on “In Loving Memory of Dirk Held

  1. Elizabeth Ives Held Jensen

    I went to Conn College for 2 years (1983-1985) and had the honor of taking my father’s (Professor Held) Greek Civilization class. I was never interested in being a classics major, afterall, it was old hat to me. Growing up I was exposed to so much of Greek culture and history, and having had 3 years of Latin in High Shcool, I was ready to explore other subjects. I have to admit, however, his class was very interesting and I learned so much. More importantly, I got a different perspective on what my father was really like. I saw the passion he had for his students and he deeply cared about education and helping others. He was interesting and funny in class and he didn’t treat me any differently than his other students. I will always cherish this time.
    It has been 2 weeks since my father passed and it is only now that I am truly starting to come to terms about the fact that he is gone in this reality. As I read all the wonderful trubutes to my father, I am laughing and crying, but above all, I feel so proud to have had him as my father and also grateful that he contributed to so many people’s lives. He died doing what loved. I only hope I can follow in his steps, continuing to do what is passionate to me and helping others. I know he will always be with me and I will look for his guidance. Thank you all for the great things you have said about my father. They will not be forgotten.

    Reply
  2. Jay Brooks Jensen

    Thank you all so very much for your stories and your love. It means so much to us and helps us through this tough time. I am his son-in-law and love to hear all the little things he did and never heard about, so keep him with us by sharing them with us, his family. Please Connecticut College, don’t let go of the Classics Department. Dr. Eric Adler reminds me a lot Professor Held. There a couldn’t be a better way to honor him by continuing with Professor Adler taking over. Its what Dirk wanted. Of course I think after 40+ years of service, a wing or perhaps building should be named after him. Think about it. Think about how much he did and all the lives he shaped and supported. The Held building sounds good to me. Dr Eric and Clair Brennan ’13 said it, ‘He was a selfless man’. My wife and I know this and experienced it numerous times.
    Whenever we would come up to visit, after dinner and a quick break, it was always back to his home office to correct papers until 11:30 pm. Up and going at 6:00 am and not stopping until 11:30pm. Liz, his daugher, is the same with the marine mammal business. Intense dedication, both of them. I guess she had a great teacher. Thank you all, we really appreciate it.
    Jay Brooks Jensen

    Reply
  3. Heather Holmes

    I feel incredibly lucky to have had Professor Held both as a teacher and an advisor. Even in the first couple weeks of school, he had unwavering confidence in me — he urged me to take higher-level classes and made sure I got into them. In class, he took us seriously, but his sense of humor spilled over into even the driest subjects and made us laugh in spite of ourselves at 9 AM in the Larrabee common room. My favorite memory, though, is his greeting — every time I saw Professor Held around campus, he’d smile and say, “There she is!”
    Thank you for everything you did, Professor. Rest in peace. You are truly missed.

    Reply
  4. Kimberly Graham Burgess

    I saw Dirk in the basement of Shain Library ten days before he passed. He was just leaving a class and as he rounded the corner, I called out to him. He gave me a huge hug, one that (literally, due to his height) swept me off my feet. We talked about our lives and where we were in them at that moment. We then spoke about Greece, sharing a love that is nuanced and rich with symbolism. I feel privileged to have had Dirk as my advisor at Connecticut College. He supported my academic interests throughout my undergraduate and doctoral studies. I am among many who will miss him dearly.

    Kimberly Graham Burgess

    Reply
  5. Nancy Adler

    Joel and I met Dirk Held over 20 years ago when our son, Eric, was about to graduate from Conn. It was clear in our very brief conversation on graduation day that Dirk knew Eric very well indeed. Through the years we learned just how committed Dirk was to Eric’s success. Whenever Eric had a career decision to make, we knew that Eric had spoken with Dirk and got his sage wisdom and advice. While we did not know Dirk very well personally, we learned just how important he was to Eric. We considered Eric very fortunate indeed to have had Dirk as his mentor, friend, and second father figure. Joel and I want to thank the Held family for sharing this wonderful man with the rest of the world. We have all benefited from having had him in our lives in some way.

    Reply

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