Beneath the Iron Mask

To temper the image of the late Reed anthropology professor Gail Kelly ’55 [“The Iron Maiden,” June 2012], she wasn’t so steely in my experience, though certainly she wore an iron mask.

Three years following my Reed graduation, I settled in Vancouver. Not long after, I turned around when someone tapped my back at a bookstore, and there was Gail. (I always called her Gail without any repercussion or warning to say “Miss Kelly.”) I’d only known her from my sophomore stint on the Reed senate, several of Jim Webb’s [English, 1965–71] notorious Sunday teas, and when I tried to sell her my portable stereo (“You expect to get that much?”), trying to raise funds to run off after graduation to live in Europe forever with my new lover. (She never once alluded to my being gay, yet it was an open fact, and she had close gay friends.)

So, after she appeared out of the blue, we went for tea at the nearby Hotel Vancouver, and remained good friends until her death 33 years later. A week before her passing, I raced down to Portland on her call and took her on her last outing: indulging two of her favorite pursuits— dining at an upscale trendy restaurant and browsing in a shop. She did love everything to do with consumption; we once hatched an elaborate scheme to produce a documentary television series on shopping. My favourite scheme, though, derived from when she helped organize the first Alumni College, for Reed’s 75th anniversary. It focused on the humanities of the year the college was founded. Ever afterwards, we immediately called one another to share our latest discovery of any 1911 event, trivial or pivotal.

Over the years she often tried to get me to be as passionate about shopping as she was, and usually for some oddball item she’d taken a fancy to—Welsh furniture comes to mind. Once, when I arrived to pick her up at her jungle-like garden house in Eastmoreland, she got into my shiny new black Volvo sedan, disparaging the fact that I hadn’t bought a Jaguar. I didn’t have the heart to disappoint her on that last visit with the news that I was soon to be ordained a Zen monk.

—Gareth Sirotnik ’69

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada