I learned today that Robert Ritner, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago and formerly at Yale University, has died after a lengthy illness. He had become a popular figure among critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his willingness to criticize faithful Latter-day Saint scholars who defend the Book of Abraham. I wish him well on the next stage of his journey. (John Gee, a former student of Professor Ritner’s at Yale, reflects briefly on Ritner’s passing here.)
And I also learned today that Steve Densley, the longtime president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, has died. I didn’t know him well; in fact, I may only have spoken with him once. But his name has been prominent in my adopted home valley for decades — he’s being hailed as a “Utah County icon” — and, more significantly, I know his son Steven T. Densley, Jr., the Interpreter Foundation’s remarkable, reliable, effective, congenial, multitalented executive vice president. If the rule like father, like son holds in this case (which I strongly suspect it does), it’s clear that Utah Valley really has lost a pivotal figure and an icon. I pray the Lord’s blessings of peace and comfort upon his family and friends.
Finally, I learned today that David C. Montgomery, who retired in 2002 from the Department of History at Brigham Young University, has passed away. On a lark, while an undergraduate Greek major at bYU, I took a course from him in Central Asian history, which was his principal scholarly focus. It opened my eyes to an area of the world — extending from the Russian steppes to the borders of China and Iran, replete with Uyghurs and Uzbeks and Mongols and studded with exotic gems like Samarkand and Bukhara and Tashkent — of which I had previously known literally almost nothing. Later, I studied Turkish with him, one on one in his office.
He intimidated me. (Part of that, I’m guessing, may have come from his military background and attitude. But not all. Perhaps I’ll write up a bit of my story with him, someday. Some of it, though, I probably never will.) When I myself joined the BYU faculty, though, I came to really like him as a colleague in the interdepartmental Middle East Studies program. And I came to understand and to appreciate him. We never became “close,” but he was a rugged and thoroughly authentic original, and I liked that.
Three or four days ago, I heard a recording of a song — “Get Together,” by the Youngbloods — that I hadn’t heard for perhaps thirty years or more. One passage from it seems soberly appropriate today:
Some may come and some may go.
We shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last.
We are but a moment’s sunlight
Fading in the grass.