Guest post: Barry Alpher on Geoff O’Grady

[Here is a guest post from Barry Alpher in remembrance of Geoff. See also the ELAC blog for more updates.]

Geoff O’Grady sent me an offprint of his 1966 paper on Proto-Ngayarda not long after I had returned, late in 1967, from fieldwork in western CYP. At the time I was enthusiastically working through Ken Hale’s proto-Paman materials. Geoff, at a distance, possibly sensed in me a fellow cognate-junkie. At any rate, he was treating me, very much his junior, as a full-fledged colleague. This was very gracious and generous of him.
I didn’t meet Geoff in person until the American Anthropological Association meeting in Seattle that Autumn. At that time LaMont West, who lived in Seattle, invited us to his house and fed us a very exotic dinner. He then allowed us to search through his large old-fashioned steamer-trunk full of paper vocabulary slips, culled from his field-notes and carefully collated, of Australian languages. Monty gave us copies (the slips were in triplicate, if I remember correctly) of material on languages of interest to us. He drove us back to the hotel—me reacting mildly to something I had eaten, Monty uttering “someone here has a very exotic digestive system”, and Geoff silently greatful for having been permitted to rescue at least some of the treasure from what, as he never tired of mentioning worriedly for the next few days of the conference, he considered a serious fire hazard.
Geoff was at the 1974 conference in Canberra, where I ran into him and Ken Hale conversing in halting Malay. They were in the “zone” that another O’Grady tribute has mentioned, and I beat an apologetic retreat. After that conference, Geoff and Ken left on the tour of the NT that was to result in their report on bilingual education.
I visited Geoff and Alix in Victoria and gave a presentation at Geoff’s department, in 1991. Other than that, my contact with him was mostly by traditional mail, with the occasional phone conversation. Not long before Geoff passed away I had the very great pleasure of collaborating with him and with Claire Bowern on a paper about the history of the Western Torres Strait Island language. I very much miss him as a friend and colleague.

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