In Memoriam: Dr John Ruedy

Posted in History, Life at 3:10 pm by

I learned recently that one of my favorite professors from Georgetown, Dr John D. “Jack” Ruedy, had passed away last fall. I have managed to corral some of my many thoughts and memories of my years knowing him and try to pay tribute to him here.

Dr Ruedy was my first human contact with Georgetown. I still remember calling him from my room in the Georgetown Holiday Inn when I was in town for the National Model Arab League in April after being accepted to the Master of Arts in Arab Studies-PhD in History joint program. Although our schedules didn’t align for an in-person meeting, he nevertheless started putting me at ease over graduate school. When I arrived in the fall, he was a familiar face, or, rather, voice in the midst of everything new, and I soon found myself enrolled in one of his classes. Early that fall semester, we connected over both my long-ago Classics background and a love of soccer. Major League Soccer was at that time a young, small league, with no team near my hometown, so while I enjoyed watching, I had no team affiliation. Dr Ruedy, however, was a committed DC United fan, and United were making another run at the championship that fall, so class always began with a quick recap. At one point Dr Ruedy suggested our class, along with a freshman dorm floor he was mentoring, might attend a playoff match, and I was tasked with investigating the feasibility. Sadly, ticket prices, availability, and scheduling all conspired against us, but it is because of Dr Ruedy that “my team” became, and remains, the Black-and-Red.

I don’t know if Dr Ruedy thought I might become a North Africanist (I had done a little bit of work on Algeria in college), but unlike many of my previous professors and teachers, he never tried to sway or strong-arm me into pursuing his field while ignoring my interests, which meant a great deal to me. As my field of study drifted further back in time and south of the Sahara, Dr Ruedy was always supportive and encouraging. He made sure I had the benefit of his North African expertise in topics where the two regions were connected. The closest thing to a disagreement I can remember is one semester when he was my advisor, Dr Ruedy lobbied for me to take his good friend Dr Michael Hudson’s seminal Arab Politics class, while I opted to take an Arabic literature class to help round out my collateral field instead (in retrospect, I wish I had let him persuade me).

Dr Ruedy made sure that we as graduate students were well-rounded people; our graduate-only sessions in “under/over” classes, as well as many of our major field seminar classes, always included wine and cheese; I remain grateful to him for expanding my cheese palate. Sometimes, too, class would take place over a meal at The Tombs, knowledge exchanged with food and fellowship. Although Dr Ruedy was a long-established professor and doyen of the American scholars of North Africa, he lived in our world, from his daily morning runs (even if they sometimes were on the banks of the Tigris or the shores of the Mediterranean rather than just around his neighborhood) to the way he valued every student and every question. Dr Ruedy was always excited about teaching; my memories of his arms moving, rising like a crescendo, as he made a point, are vivid to this day. He had the ability to open your mind to new and different ideas and interpretations in compelling fashion. One of my favorite memories of his teaching, though, is the way he would explain the concept of isnād (chain of transmission of Islamic knowledge) to his undergraduates, mentioning that the information they were receiving came from Gustave von Grunebaum via Nikki Keddie and thence through Dr Ruedy himself. Those of us in the field of Middle East studies know that his was an isnād of the highest quality.

I was saddened to learn of Dr Ruedy’s passing last fall. During my time at Georgetown, I was privileged to have him at various points as my professor, my boss as both a research and a teaching assistant, and my advisor; however, it often felt as if he was more of a “third grandfather” (like both of mine, Dr Ruedy was a World War II veteran) because of his warmth, caring demeanor, and good-natured comments. He was a renowned scholar and a great man; he leaves behind an enduring legacy, at Georgetown and beyond, and I believe he lives on through the thousands of us, his students, whose knowledge of the Middle East comes with the illustrious von Grunebaum-Keddie-Ruedy isnād.

My thoughts go out to Dr Ruedy’s wife, Nancy, and the rest of his family, and to all who knew and cherished him.


Dr Ruedy at the CCAS summer teachers workshop, ca. 2004

I filched this photo from the CCAS website long ago; to me, it captures Dr Ruedy at his best, teaching, with a smile. This was one of the Center’s annual summer workshops for high school teachers, where he was always a popular speaker—this one perhaps was even after Dr Ruedy had retired.