I’m shocked and in deep sorrow. My long-time friend and colleague Bill Hamblin passed away suddenly earlier today. I don’t know any details; I’ve only just now confirmed the truth of the report. It sounds like a heart attack, but I don’t know.
I first met Bill when he and I were both studying in Cairo. I was already there; he came over for a year at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA), something of a finishing school for Arabists that was housed at the American University in Cairo, where I was enrolled as a student of Middle Eastern history. My wife already knew him slightly from undergraduate days at BYU, where she had been a theater major and he, a history major, had appeared in one or two plays.
My wife and I and Bill and his wife Loree spent a lot of time together, exploring the wonders of pharaonic, classical, early Christian, and medieval Islamic Egypt.
He returned to the University of Michigan for his Ph.D. in Near Eastern history. I eventually ended up (after myself doing the CASA “finishing school”) at the University of California at Los Angeles, and then took a job at BYU. Bill began working at the Department of Defense and moved thereafter to the University of Southern Mississippi.
When a position seemed to be opening up in the Department of History at BYU, I undertook one of my few successful political maneuvers and managed to interest the University administration in hiring Bill. Thereafter, every time I asked him for a favor, I would tell him that he was simply working off his debt to me; by the time he took retirement from BYU, he was down to acknowledging that roughly 84% of everything he had and everything he was he owed to me.
We were colleagues at the University for many years, and for several of those years we served together on the board of the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS). We co-authored several articles together, and even envisioned a jointly authored book on celestial ascents around the world.
For the past eight (?) years or so, we’ve co-written a bi-weekly column on world religions for the Deseret News.
Bill’s learning was prodigious, but what I most admired about him, intellectually speaking, was his fresh way of seeing things. I always learned from him. And he was funny.
In the wake of what I’ve called the Purge at the Maxwell Institute in 2012, Bill’s was one of the most forceful voices for the establishment of a new organization to pick up the torch of apologetics and explicitly faithful scholarship. He was a vitally important co-founder of the Interpreter Foundation, present at the creation — that is to say, one of those who met for lunch at the Olive Garden Restaurant to discuss whether we should try to launch a new foundation. He contributed our second article, and he was energetically involved in getting us underway.
I’m rambling, I know, and I’ll write more later. There are interesting stories to be recorded.
But I’m stunned and heartbroken.