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PostWilliam Ratliff, 1937-2014 (John Eipper, USA, 04/15/14 3:00 am)
I have received shocking and terrible news. Former WAIS President, William Ratliff, Curator Emeritus of the Americas Collection at the Hoover Institution, died suddenly on Friday, April 11th. He was 77. I am so shocked that words escape me.
Bill was as accomplished a scholar as he was approachable and down-to-earth as a person. He was one of the very few Area Studies persons who came to master two complex regions of the world: Latin America and China. He had access to the very highest political circles of both regions, and was respected and admired by politicians of all political stripes. I believe it is because everyone knew him as outspoken, but absolutely honest and fair in his pursuit of scholarly truth.
Bill's numerous books on Asia and Latin America have become authoritative works in their fields. He also published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and other leading newspapers, and appeared on NPR, BBC, Voice of America and elsewhere. Bill was also an expert music critic and talented musician.
WAIS owes an enormous debt of gratitude, and probably its very existence, to Bill's leadership after Prof. Hilton's death. Besides taking over the Presidency after Prof. Hilton's retirement, Bill worked tirelessly to put WAIS on a solid legal footing and to continue our relationship with Stanford University. After Prof. Hilton's passing, Bill also spent weeks organizing and cataloging the Ronald Hilton papers at the Hoover Institution, which ensured the preservation of our organizational history. Just last month, I had the chance to spend two weeks with these precious materials, and to speak with Bill about them.
From the day I took over the editorship of WAIS, I could always rely on Bill for sage advice, encouragement, and a good laugh. On March 12, 2014, I met Bill for lunch in Palo Alto. We chatted at length about Prof. Hilton, Bill's recent retirement, and the latest developments in Cuba. As it was a hurried, "working lunch," we made arrangements to continue our conversation during my next trip to California. How sad to think that we'll never have the chance to pick up where we left off.
I received an e-mail from Bill on Sunday April 6th, as a greeting upon my arrival in Mexico, which I must share with WAISdom:
John: Welcome to Mexico. Your brief descriptive passage brought back lots of memories of my visits there.
I just bought Coonts's Hong Kong. [See Luciano Dondero's WAIS post of 6 April--JE.] I have been to HK several dozen times, including the handover, since my wife and I worked there a summer with refugees from the Great Leap in 1960.
I am now writing a 1500-word article on the topic Sendero raises--a topic I have worked on in various ways for many years, and I will send a link when it is published.
Enjoy your trip and favor de don't take time to write me back.
Abrazos to both of you.
I took Bill at his word, and didn't write back. Now I regret not reaching out to him one last time.
WAIS has lost a brilliant colleague and a dear friend. My deepest condolences to Lynn Ratliff and Bill's six children and many grandchildren. This is a sad time for us all.
Remembering Bill Ratliff
(Charles Ridley, USA
04/15/14 8:20 AM)
I am stunned and shocked to learn of the death of Bill Ratliff. Our friendship dates back to my early days at the Hoover Institution. In recent years we have met for lunch once a month at a nearby Thai restaurant, and I had been looking forward to lunch with him on his next visit to Palo Alto.
My deepest and most sincere sympathies to his family. Again, I am totally and absolutely stunned by this news of his death.
JE comments: Charles Ridley knew Bill better than any of us, and he echoes all our sentiments. Bill was a stalwart WAISer, who often wrote me notes of support even when he didn't post to the Forum.
I have lost a cherished mentor, and we've all lost a friend.
Here is Bill's final WAIS posting, from St Patrick's day 2014. It's classic Ratliff prose: conversational, witty, and erudite at the same time.
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (Siegfried Ramler, USA 04/15/14 1:58 PM)
Just a few days ago I sent an e-mail message to Bill Ratliff, asking him to speak to a delegation of Chinese scholars visiting the Stanford area. I am now shocked by his sudden passing. He reached out with kindness and brilliance, giving of himself in so many ways. All of us, including WAIS, continue to benefit from the contributions of a remarkable man.
JE comments: We're all gripped by disbelief. Siegfried Ramler wrote to ask me for Bill Ratliff's e-mail last Thursday, just one day before Bill's sudden passing.
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (Istvan Simon, USA 04/15/14 2:10 PM)
I am deeply saddened by the news of Bill Ratliff's untimely death. Bill was a wonderful friend and I greatly enjoyed his company, boundless energy, and lively conversation every time we met.
I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to Bill's family.
JE comments: I too will always remember Bill's boundless energy. He was an extremely early riser--a "gran madrugador" in Spanish--and occasionally we would exchange e-mails at around 7 AM my time. That's 4 AM in California! Bill told me that he often made do with 3 to 4 hours of sleep per night. This is undoubtedly one reason he was such a productive scholar.
I'll be re-running some of Bill's WAIS posts over the coming days. This one, from January 2010, shows his balanced thinking at its best. Note how Bill discusses Fidel Castro without falling into any ideological shibboleths. Just the facts, ma'am.
And my very best wishes to Istvan Simon. I hope we'll have the chance to meet the next time I'm in California.
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (Bienvenido Macario, USA 04/15/14 4:09 PM)
Other than meeting him briefly in 2001, I had practically no personal interaction with William Ratliff, but it was his WAIS post of March 21, 2011 that had the greatest impact, for it helped me understand and put into context the grieving process I was going through after the death of my wife.
First published in the Christian Science Monitor, Bill's op-ed zeroed in on the fact that development of these countries all started under a wise authoritarian rule. Yet he stressed the "lingering negative cultural values" as the main culprit for China and Vietnam's failure to make the economic leap typical of their tiger-nation neighbors. It was obvious to us Filipinos that the same applies to the Philippines, even though Bill didn't mention the Philippines specifically.
Could this apply to the problems of Latin America that Richard Hancock mentioned in his recent post of April 14th?
I believe so.
It was only after I read William Ratliff's post that I realize how different the cultural values my late wife and I have. I was greatly mistaken to think that all Christians have the same understanding and appreciation of Jesus Christ's two greatest commandments. Or that religion, especially Christianity, would trump culture and tradition.
After the death of Gene Franklin, whom I had hoped to meet in person at a WAIS conference [Gene passed away in August 2012--JE], I have stopped looking forward to whom I will meet at the next WAIS conference.
I offer my condolences to Bill's wife and family.
Excerpt from Bill's post: "[The Asian Tiger] countries share a profound, centuries-old link to traditional Chinese culture that has been adapted to the goals of individual nations.
"The tigers are the nations that during the past half century leaped over the rest of the so-called developing countries to join the already developed world, a process they began under wise authoritarian leadership. Even Sinic China and Vietnam have not made that leap despite extraordinary economic growth, in large part because of lingering negative cultural values.
"Nor has any country in Africa or the Middle East made the leap, excepting Israel. Nor has any country in Latin America, as Costa Rican Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias explains in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs."
JE comments: One of many fitting tributes to Bill Ratliff would be a discussion of the concept he mentions above: wise authoritarian leadership. I was reminded again last week in Mexico that this notion applies to the Porfirio Díaz "presidency," 1876-1910, which ended in Revolution, but was also responsible for the industrialization and urbanization of the country. Many Mexicans idealize the "Porfiriato" as a time of positivist Order and Progress, but the poorest citizens scarcely benefited from these changes.
Wise authoritarian leadership: an ideal or an oxymoron? Could we cite places like Singapore as present-day examples?
- Remembering Bill Ratliff; Bill in *Hoover Digest* (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 04/17/14 3:39 AM)
John, I was shocked to learn about Bill Ratliff's passing! He was a dear friend who personally asked me to join WAIS. Back in the 1990s, we had teamed up to discuss and debate Cuba-related issues both on radio and TV. He was a generous soul, an intrepid traveler, a gentleman and a scholar. His death is a personal loss that deeply saddens me.
This op-ed in the Hoover Digest, "Taiwan's Voice of Experience," might be Bill's last official publication:
JE comments: A discussion of the above would be a fitting tribute to Bill Ratliff. Francisco Wong-Díaz reflects the views of us all: Bill was a generous soul, an intrepid traveler, a gentleman and a scholar. And his work ethic is an example we can only aspire to.
An administrative note: Francisco Wong-Díaz told me off-Forum that he hasn't been receiving WAIS e-mails for the last two weeks. David Duggan, another Hotmail user, had a similar problem from April 6th until a few days ago. I'll ask Roman Zhovtulya to investigate. For now--if you are a Hotmail customer, and have had your WAIS mail blocked, please let me know. (Of course, this is assuming that you are reading this through our public website.)
- Remembering Bill Ratliff; Saudi Youth Voices (Tamara Zuniga-Brown, USA 04/17/14 5:24 AM)
Firstly, I told my dad [WAISer Emeritus Tim Brown--JE] of the shocking news of Bill Ratliff's passing. He was deeply, deeply saddened. My dad had introduced us many years ago, and we enjoyed a lively conversation about international affairs over sushi in Palo Alto. From the recent posts, this great man will be sorely missed.
I did want to share an article that I wrote and was published yesterday. To my surprise, amazement and honor, I made the front page of the WorldTribune. To say my Saudi (and Chinese) students were thrilled would be an understatement.
This has been the most wonderful opportunity and incredible example of our democratic process and freedom of speech. I hope we have most definitely shown that positive steps forward in the process of building bridges between East and West, socially and culturally, can be done.
One more step forward for humanity...
JE comments: Tamara Zúñiga-Brown's article is accessible below:
Tamara is preaching to my choir, that nothing promotes cross-cultural understanding more than student exchanges. For every disaffected Saudi youth in the US, there must be a thousand or more like those fortunate enough to take Tamara's ESL classes. The problem is, only the angry ones tend to make the news.
My congratulations to Tamara for the WorldTribune piece. Well done! (I too shared sushi in Palo Alto with Bill Ratliff, two or three years ago, although our final lunch together was Indian. How many of us have joyful memories of breaking bread--or nan, or rice--with Bill! Among his many virtues, he was an exceptional gourmand, with a particular fondness for exotic food--the spicier the better.)
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (Mike Bonnie, USA 04/17/14 12:20 PM)
I'm also shocked by Bill Ratliff's passing. He and I weren't close; however, he left an indelible impression on me at the 2006 WAIS conference. I recall him as a tall, gentle man, who took keen interest in my humble travels to China. I enjoyed seeing him again in 2009, where my memories were pleasantly refreshed. Through Bill's posts on WAIS I learned to see him as insatiably curious, widely knowledgeable and succinct in making his points.
My condolences to Bill's family and close friends.
JE comments: The academic talk was Bill's forte. I recall his WAIS 2009 presentation, "China in Latin America's Future," which with extreme clarity laid out China's development initiatives throughout the continent. Masterfully combining Bill's two areas of expertise, it was one of the highlights of the conference. Bill never overwhelmed with theoretical obfuscation or academic jargon. His talks were succinct, as Mike Bonnie points out, but always deeply informative and insightful.
- Bill Ratliff: Some Reminiscences (Edward Jajko, USA 04/21/14 3:34 AM)
Some reminiscences of Bill Ratliff.
On Yom Kippur, 1982, I had my job interview at the Hoover Institution Library. In the
short time that I was able to allot to my visit to California for this purpose, the woman from
whom I had learned about the job opening and who would later become an esteemed
colleague most graciously drove me around the area, showing me the Stanford campus and
parts of adjacent Palo Alto. As we drove along El Camino Real, I was thrilled to see an actual
Slavic book shop, strengthening my desires and hopes that I would get the Hoover job.
Months later, I was introduced by an old friend to the enormously gracious as well as learned
owners of that book store, and as I became their occasional customer over the years, they
became my friends. I recall saying to Mrs. Szwede, years after that encounter, that when I
first met her and her husband, and was introduced to their store, I had never imagined that I
would become one of Mr. Szwede's pallbearers.
This episode in my life has come to mind during the past week and more. I had been
mentally sketching out two WAIS postings--one on Japheth son of Noah, the other on JE's
travels in Mexico--and had written down a couple of notes and had consulted my Anchor
Bible Dictionary. I had never imagined that, while considering these postings on WAIS, I
would wind up writing one memorializing my friend Bill Ratliff.
Bill and I were curatorial colleagues in the Hoover Institution Library. For how many years,
I can't say at this point. My chronology has grown hazy. I can't recall when he took over the
Americas Collection on the retirement of curator Joseph Bingaman. It has to have been
around 1990, perhaps a little before. Bill reoriented the collecting policy of the Americas
Collection. Joe, a librarian, had (as was his job) emphasized the building of the Hoover's
collections of books and serials from and on the Americas. This included what were then
rare, hard to acquire materials from Cuba. When Bill took over, he minimized collection of
library materials and instead emphasized acquisition of archives, primary sources. This was
in line with a change in emphasis on the part of the head of Hoover's library and archives.
Bill was highly successful in his work. He developed contacts throughout Latin America,
from Mexico and Central America quite literally down to Tierra del Fuego. He dealt with
political opposition groups, armed fighters of various kinds, and government officials all the
way up to presidents of some Latin American countries. He acquired archival collections of
militant groups, governments, and statesmen. As Bill got deeper into this work, he seemed to
spend as much as half his time traveling, making contacts and acquiring more materials or at
least commitments to send materials.
In addition, Bill acquired people, bringing back to the Hoover a number of individuals who
were influential in governments or opposition groups. They spent time at the Hoover as
visiting fellows, occasionally giving talks, and participating with Bill in the writing of books.
Bill was a deadly serious worker, totally dedicated to what he was doing, which was the
fulfillment of the mission of the Hoover Institution Library and Archives by documenting the
political and social movements of the area that he was responsible for. But, while annoyances
could cause his temper to flare up suddenly, he clearly enjoyed what he was doing
immensely. It was always clear that he also immensely enjoyed what the rest of us were
doing. I should say here that the offices of the Hoover Institution Library's curators--all
save the East Asian people, who were separately located--were on the second floor of the
Hoover Tower. That floor is a little C-shaped collar of offices that fits snugly against the base
of the shaft of the Hoover Tower, where it joins the bottom or main floor. It may be seen if
one stands far enough away from the Tower. From the inside, it is accessible only by way of
an internal fire stair that for some years has had a sign warning off unauthorized visitors. At
the time I worked there, the floor held the offices of the four members of the curatorial staff
of the Africa Middle East Collection, curatorial assistant, and administrative assistant; two
offices of the Slavic/East European curators and admin assistant; the European curator and
curatorial assistant; and the offices of the Americas Curator and curatorial assistant. It was
a small shop and we all had to do our best to get along with each other and work in some
kind of harmony, even if we were all doing quite different things.
The amount of knowledge and linguistic power on the floor was formidable. The European
curator was a native German who knew other European languages. Her assistant was fluent
in French, Italian, Spanish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and knew much Polish. The Slavic deputy
curator (Joe) was fluent in Russian and comfortable in other languages of his area, with a
food knowledge of Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian as well. In addition, he was fluent in
German and Persian and knew some Arabic. He was an expert geographer. Bill was, of
course, fluent in Spanish, and used this to full advantage in his work. I was astonished by
his fluency in Chinese. I would pass by his office from time to time and hear him having
telephone conversations in Chinese and would be amazed. Three of us on the floor: Bill; Joe,
the deputy curator of the Slavic/Russian collection; and I, would sometimes muse about the
fact that at the same time years past we were all studying Chinese, in different places. Bill
was taking it at USC; I can't recall where Joe was studying it; and I studied Chinese at Penn
and the Yale Summer Language Institute. Of us three, I have pretty much forgotten the
language, through disuse; Jose retains quite a lot; and Bill was totally fluent, fluent enough
to conduct academic tours to China and to do other business there. And do those telephone
conversations, which is very difficult.
The second floor of the Hoover Tower could be a very hot place to work, since no shade is
afforded. Bill's response to the heat was to remove his usual longsleeved dress shirt--which
he customarily wore without a necktie and with his sleeves folded up to the elbows--so as to
keep it fresh. He would come to the xerox room from his office in his undershirt and, if I saw
him, I would almost invariably address him with something like “Hola, descamisado!” Despite
the staleness of this remark over time, Bill maintained his smile and the gleam in his eye.
That almost ever-present smile and the eager gleam in his eye were trademarks. Bill was
constantly interested in things, and often amused by them. I think the last time I saw him
was at the memorial gathering for Ronald Hilton that was held at the Bechtel Center on the
Stanford campus, the site of the 2009 WAIS conference. I remember seeing Bill's delight in
my retelling of my first real encounter with Prof. Hilton, at a Hoover seminar, when I
thought that Prof. Hilton had been unable, in his advanced age, to stay awake and alert as a
now forgotten speaker droned on, but instead, as soon as the speaker finished and Q&A
started, his head shot up and he began to ask a series of probing questions, quoting the
speaker from memory (at that point I would have been hard pressed even to remember what
the speaker had been talking about). I was astonished. Bill enjoyed that true story greatly.
Bill had been a professional French horn player back in Florida and loved classical music. I
had studied piano and a couple of other instruments and had the same love of music, and we
wound up talking about it many times. Bill was an occasional music critic for the now
defunct Palo Alto newspaper, the Peninsula Times Tribune (and joined me in delighting in
the PTT's three to four-inch front page headlines, “Raccoons in raids of terror”). He didn't
get to as many performances as he would have liked because of his travel schedule and also
because his early rising, noted in one of the postings about him, meant that he was unable to
stay up through late night performances. But he enjoyed hearing about the concerts, recitals,
and operas I went to, and the recordings I listened to. As a critic, Bill received CDs for
review. I know that a few of the CDs in my collection are ones that he gave to me when I
expressed an interest in them, but I am no longer able to identify them. Bill very often had
his office door closed, so that he could concentrate on his archival work or his writing
without interruption but also so that he could listen at the same time to stacks of CDs. As for
performances, I recall his great interest in my “oral report” about my first visit to Symphony
Hall in Boston. I was in the city for a conference but played hooky to attend a BSO concert,
in which the orchestra played the Mahler Fifth, preceded by a Haydn symphony that
curiously had a horn or trumpet call that was almost the same as in the Mahler. Bill couldn't
quite accept my comments--which I still hold--that Mahler had been in need of a ruthless
editor. On another occasion, we were in agreement, about a production of The Magic Flute
be a local opera company, put on in the 1990s after the revelation of some unsavory activities
in the White House. The director of the production had had the Sarastro walking among his
Masonic followers, stroking their faces and chins. I can't recall which of us delighted the
other by noting that Sarastro had been depicted as Bill Clinton.
Bill and I had lunch together, when I was at the Hoover, but on all too rare occasions. His
favorite lunch seems to have been to rush over to the Thai place that had opened up on
campus, grab a bowl of soup, and rush back to his office and eat at his desk. Someone, in a
posting, noted his energy, and it was always evident, even if he was going to get lunch or a
snack. I don't know if Bill was a runner, but he certainly looked like one.
Over the past few years, Bill and I had been in all too infrequent email contact, sharing
complaints and making plans to get together that were never fulfilled. I was always
surprised, and envious, to read that someone else had had lunch with him. I had hoped that
he and I might get together again, if not at a lunch, than maybe at a Hoover gathering
(although I seem no longer to be on the guest lists). For him, it was a good four-hour drive
from his new home to the Stanford area, so it was not something he was going to do every
day. Well, in any event, now that lunch, that get together, will never take place.
I will miss
Bill Ratliff very much. May he rest in peace.
JE comments: Thank you, Ed. A touching tribute from a good friend. Bill Ratliff must have known every Asian restaurant within a twenty-mile radius of the Hoover Tower! I too always wondered if Bill was a runner, as he was constantly in motion and in extraordinary physical shape. This is just one of the many things I regret not asking him.
It's hard to believe he's already been gone for ten days.
Bill Ratliff: Some Reminiscences
(Charles Ridley, USA
04/21/14 2:47 PM)
Ed Jajko (21 April) has written an excellent remembrance of Bill Ratliff. Bill and I met when we were on the Hoover staff, from which I departed in 1973. Over the years, we kept up a long-term schedule of monthly lunchtime meetings at various Palo Alto ethnic restaurants, finally settling on the Thai restaurant in "Midtown" fairly close to my residence. We shared interests in both China studies and music as well as our Hoover ties. I could never get him to show me the sonata he had written as a music student, but I was a religious reader of the reviews of local concerts he used to write for The Times Tribune. His reviews, as you can well imagine, were excellent.
I mourn his loss both as a superb scholar and as loyal friend.
JE comments: I've just spent an hour looking through every camera card I shot in the last eight years, and unfortunately I didn't find a single photograph of Bill. I guess I always assumed there would be a next time for pictures. A request for WAISers: if you have some Bill images, send them my way and I'll assemble an album.
A superb scholar and loyal friend: I cannot think of a better way to describe Bill Ratliff.
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (George Zhibin Gu, China 05/06/14 7:19 AM)
Bill Ratliff's death made me very sad. I only found out recently, as I emailed him a letter some days after his passing, but only got the terrible news.
I have been in frequent contact with Bill over many, many years. Indeed, he mentored me enormously with my research and writing on modern China history. His friendship and encouragement have been extremely helpful. It is simply beyond words to express my gratitude for all the great help he has generously offered. I will keep his friendship within my heart forever.
JE comments: Although the circumstances are sad, it's a joy to hear from WAISer George Zhibin Gu after four or five years. George collaborated with Bill Ratliff on several projects, including China and the New World Order (2006):
Be well, George! When time permits, I hope you will send us an update on your life and research.
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (George Zhibin Gu, China 05/06/14 7:19 AM)
- Remembering Bill Ratliff (Siegfried Ramler, USA 04/15/14 1:58 PM)