Walter R. Gove, The Man

walt2.jpgWalt Gove is one of the greatest living sociologists, and I was lucky to be on the faculty with him at Vanderbilt for ten years. Walt has made enduring contributions to the field in several substantive areas, particularly social psychology, mental illness, deviance, and criminology. Walt has published more articles in ASR, AJS, and Social Forces than almost anyone in the entire discipline, ever. He’s retired now and living in Utah, but he’s still working on papers and publishing.

Walt is the consummate true intellectual, not some sycophant seeking status and attention. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks about him, but he does care if you have a thought in your head–so if you don’t agree with his work, he’d like to know why, with specifics, and maybe just a bit of empirical evidence to support your position. At Vanderbilt, Walt was sometimes harassed by campus security, who thought he might be some homeless guy wandering around campus late at night (Walt doesn’t do mornings). He didn’t wear tweed jackets and other props that pseudo-intellectuals need to make pretense of scholarly authority. No, this dude is the real deal.

 What some don’t know is that Walt has a lifelong obsession with extreme sports. He was a serious alpineer in his glory days, and has several publications in the prestigious American Alpine Journal. I remember on my interview at Vanderbilt that he said his AAJ articles meant more to him than his articles in American Sociological Review or American Journal of Sociology. Alas, a very serious alpine accident which cost him all of his toes and many of his fingers led him to stop high altitude ascents. Still, he manages to try to kill himself on a regular basis. My great friend Alfred Darnell is lucky (or stupid) enough to accompany him on some of these adventures, which now days usually involve kayaking down glacial rivers in backcountry Alaska. They made it back this summer, despite nearly drowning, freezing to death, and being eaten by bears and wolves. Alfred is one of the best photographers I’ve ever known, and this shot of Walt is absolutely fabulous.


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