Last night, after the last of the trick-or-treaters had taken away their spoils, I heard that Stu Hilwig had died. Stu went to graduate school with me at Ohio State and was one of the world’s genuinely good guys.
I was never close friends with Stu, but like so many of my colleagues, his presence in the Department of History graduate student offices and at social events was so regular that I have Stu Hilwig stories. I remember when my buddy Mike Fronda and I had a little party at Mike’s place where everyone cooked meat together. Stu was extraordinarily concerned that his grill was too small. He must have mentioned three or four times that “it is just a little grill.” For years after the event, Mike and I would repeat that line whenever anyone remembered that party.
My most vivid memory of Stu, and perhaps the most famous, was his Chris Farley imitations in the graduate student offices. All anyone had to say was the phrase “so you want to be a writer…” and Stu would leap out from behind his little graduate student cubicle and regale the room with his version of Chris Farley’s memorable “motivational speaker” skit.
While this may sound like a trivial thing to remember someone for, but during the those long years between comprehensive exams and completing the Ph.D., Stu’s humor and outgoing personality could transform a bleak Columbus, Ohio afternoon into a reason for laughter. His stories, humor, and willingness to stop and chat despite the pressures we all felt to be working at every waking moment, made the graduate school more humane. Even through I did not keep in touch with Stu (and I wasn’t even Facebook friends with him), knowing he was in the world made me feel better.
His passing in a serious loss for his family, his university, and anyone who cares about a more humane and positive world.