In Memoriam: John Cottier & Ruby Howard

It is with much sadness that, in addition to sharing the accomplishments of our department over the past months, we also say goodbye to friends. In June 2015, we received news that Dr. John Cottier had passed away. In addition to being a wonderful person and a fine archaeologist, he was a good friend to all of us in Alabama and was a standard feature at the DeJarnette barbecue. He established the Auburn Archaeology Lab and provided the initial training for many students who made their way to UA. He was in fact a student of David DeJarnette’s, having received his M.A. with us in 1970. Our condolences to his family, students, colleagues, and friends.

Ruby Howard, 2000 (I. Brown)
Ruby Howard, 2000 (I. Brown)

In December, we were also saddened to lose Ruby Howard, a dear friend and our department’s longtime Graduate Secretary and receptionist. Several of our faculty and students who knew her shared their remembrances:

Ruby Howard was a facilitator and an enabler. And I mean that in a good sense. Ruby made things happen. She made things easy. Long before arriving on campus in 1991, to assume my new job as Associate Professor, Ruby was in contact with me. She was a fountain of information on all that was Tuscaloosa and UA. She conjured up places to live, eating venues, and things to do when once my family arrived. She knew we had two small children, so words of wisdom were offered on schools, churches, doctors, dentists—you name it! Ruby Howard was my own personal travel agent it seemed. I really wasn’t used to so much attention from a stranger, but it was hard to resist Ruby’s helping hand. My family couldn’t accompany me in the bleak winter of 1991, so I really didn’t need a house. “Not to worry,” said Ruby, “I’ve secured for you a place in Ed Williams’ remodeled basement, just a few minutes walk from department.” Okay, I needed to be careful in voicing issues, because no matter what I said, every need announced, any question asked, and Ruby was immediately there with supplies or answers. I initially thought that I must be a very special person in Ruby’s eyes, but later learned that this was the way she was with everyone. For Ruby Howard everyone was indeed a special person, and because of that she made our department a warm and inviting place for any and all who walked in the door. I can still see her smiling face as she said “Good morning” each day. Never angry, never sad, always glowing, always ready to pick up the phone and find the solution from her myriad of contacts on campus. That was Ruby Howard. It took a long time following her retirement for all of us in the Department of Anthropology to come to terms with her absence. That she was no longer with the University was impossible. How ever could we survive without Ruby? But she did leave our world, and now she is no longer with The World, but, with that said, the world is a far better place for Ruby having been a part of it. She will always be missed and she will always be with us.

—Ian W. Brown, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology

Ruby Howard was a truly exceptional person. Although she only worked 20 hours a week, she did more than most full-time employees and always did it with a smile and a kind word. She was unfailingly pleasant, never seemed to be sad (if she was, she never let on) and always did whatever she could to help everyone she encountered. Student, professor, book salesperson, janitor; anyone who came through the door would benefit from her presence. During my years as Chairperson she did everything she could to help Sue and me adjust to the University and to Tuscaloosa. She located the house we rented in Northport when we first arrived in 1986 as well as the one we later purchased without us asking. She even helped us convince Mrs. T., the elderly widow from whom we bought our house, that we were “worthy” of it. Another notable trait was her devotion to her family. A widow with two small children, Ruby made certain they grew up to be well educated and respectable adults. She spoke with them often on the office telephone and you could always know who she was talking to by the stern note in her voice. She was extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of Tuscaloosa and its people, and quite willing to share what she knew with newcomers.  As an outsider, I could never have navigated the town and campus as well as I did in my first years without her. She was a true Southern Lady in the very best sense of the term and is missed by all who had the good fortune to know her.

—Richard Diehl, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology

For those who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Ms. Ruby, you lost out on something truly special. She was one of the finest ladies I’ve ever known. I still recall the first time I met Ms. Ruby in the departmental office. She already knew I was from Mississippi, and made sure to inform me about the other graduate students who hailed from the Magnolia State. It was a delight to her that there were a passel of southerners in my cohort, for the simple reason that she was happy that we had a chance to further our education and show the world that our geography had nothing to do with our potential. No matter where you were from though, she cared, with all her being. Her jacket was red, her lips were red, her necklace was big, and her heart was huge.

As a graduate student, I could always rely on Ms. Ruby giving encouragement during the desperate hours, and she ALWAYS helped to get students through university bureaucracy and hurdles. Ms. Ruby unfailingly put the students at the top of her concerns. She would make the call that needed to be made to someone, somewhere on campus to get things dealt with for me, and anyone else who needed help. She never failed to give a smile when you saw her, and a hug when needed. Ms. Ruby was as important for my successfully getting through UA as my professors. When we finished our M.A. degrees, she was genuinely proud of all of us (even the Yankees), and it was obvious she was a little sad to see us go. We were her birds leaving the nest.  This is heartbreaking for me. She will always be sorely missed. Rest in Peace Ms. Ruby: you were a Real Southern Lady.

—Virgil Roy “Duke” Beasley, III, Cultural Resources Investigator, University of Alabama Museums, Office of Archaeological Research

From our December 2003 department newsletter Vol 1, Issue 3), honoring Ruby Howard for receiving the McKinley Award.
From our December 2003 department newsletter Vol 1, Issue 3), honoring Ruby Howard for receiving the McKinley Award.

I worked with Ruby for 18 years in the department. Although our ages  were years apart, Ruby was young at heart and a mentor to many. She impacted my life immensely. She possessed such a positive attitude and faced life with such vigor. She gave me advice on children, church, husband, work and I consider her to be one of the best friends I’ve ever known. She made all parents feel at ease who visited with their soon to be freshmen and made them so welcome with her genuine caring ways. She possessed a wealth of knowledge on any subject and freely gave it!  You simply trusted her advice and judgment. Ruby always knew of any news before it was news, especially State government as well as UA government!  She helped me become a more confident person over the years, and she was my second mother.

Ruby was a young widow who lost her husband in her 40s. She raised two small children who became outstanding adults and educators. She never gave them any slack. She never minded discipline, and her children always respected and “minded” their mom.

Ruby was quite the prankster too! Many mornings I would arrive at work frustrated from running late and getting children off to school and Ruby would find a hiding spot behind a door and jump out and shout “boo”! After screaming we would laugh til we cried and when I regained my composure and got my coffee retreating to my office to get serious with work, nothing wakes you more than reaching for your computer mouse and looking down to see a big life like rubber roach! Coffee flying after my blood curdling screams and more laughter! Ruby was quite a character and always comical!

I loved her, and the Department was better for having a “Ruby” to represent it.

—Pam Chesnutt, retired Administrative Assistant, Department of Anthropology

Our long-time secretary and friend, Ruby Howard, embodied a number of the great virtues of university life. She knew a lot about important matters and she was very generous in sharing her knowledge. Her understanding of the minutiae governing the administrative processes of our collective business at UA was unparalleled. Because the arcane details of how the university is supposed to work are constantly changing, if she was unsure about how someone needed to do something, she knew precisely the right person to ask about it. Her personal social network within the institution was simply awesome. These days whenever I conduct a frustrating search on the UA website, I think about how much more efficient she was in quickly getting to exactly the information required. Ruby was way better than Google, before there was a  Google. She also had a talent for gently encouraging her many contacts in the administration to cut some slack, or recommend a secret go-around, for a woebegone professor or student who failed to do this or that in a timely manner. Ruby excelled at helping people extract themselves from misadventures of their own creation.

Her skills in these areas extended far beyond our campus. Her knowledge of and her contacts within the wider Tuscaloosa/Northport community were also without peer. Many of us learned a good deal from Ruby, not only about such matters as who to call when the basement floods, but also about how our wider community really works, about the historical and social connections between local power brokers, and about what developments are looming just beyond the horizon.

But above and beyond her knowledge, her social connections and her generosity in sharing them both with her friends in the department, Ruby was simply a very kind person. she exuded good will; being helpful was not part of a job description for her, it was who she was.

—Michael D. Murphy, Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology