Stanley D. McKenzie: In Memoriam

There are two quite famous black and white photographs. So famous that even those who’ve never seen either feel they know both.

The earliest is Lewis Hine’s 1920 “Power house mechanic working on a steam pump.” The second is a still from Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 movie, Modern Times.

In each, the model wields an oversized wrench, tightening nuts on an oversized pump (in the former) and an oversized gear (the latter).

Today, though, two other photographs stand out for me. Because yesterday, election day, I received the news that my four-decade friend, Stanley D. McKenzie, passed away.

Like the Hine-Chaplin images, the first, oldest photo is a black and white vertical. A skinny kid wearing a tee-shirt and work pants stands before some sort of contraption at a Yakima, WA tire factory.

It’s more snapshot than photograph. With all the endearing and irritating traits of the genre.

The second, also taken on the fly by another anonymous shutterbug, shows two men on the RIT campus. They are walking from the Student Union to the College of Liberal Arts and toward the camera. One has his mouth open, talking; the other, an older gentleman, is closed-mouth, presumably listening to the first.

Stan liked a good steak and he loved a Perfect Manhattan. He laughed at himself more often than he did at – but more often with – others.

He was seriously humorous, fully appreciative of irony while inoffensively dismissive of sarcasm.

He was a champion for ideas, sometimes even ones that seemed loopy.

He demanded evidence before accepting a proponent’s position. And anecdotes didn’t count. No matter how many were piled up in front of him.

If able to convince him with things other than hyperbole-however-passionate, he would join with its proponent and became the idea’s advocate without taking credit for the idea.

I wouldn’t describe Stan as a “scholar” if that word is limited by bean-counting publications in academic journals. But he most certainly was scholarly: thoughtful, reflective, a listener with well-formed opinions who was gracious enough to allow the Other their time at the podium.

He was my critic and unpaid editor for a book I wrote a quarter century ago. I was, at the time, convinced he owned stock in Bic, as he must have gone through a dozen red ones.

Likewise, I relied on his wisdom, insight and sharp critical eye for a title produced four years ago. Although he must have sold the stock in the intervening two decades, mostly foregoing edits to punctuation (except for the really egregious ones), his commentary prompted deeper, more rigorous thought and more carefully and tightly drawn conclusions from an author hurried by a hard deadline.

Doubtless, there would be plenty of work for him on the current text.

Stan was a mentor well before the word was morphed into a fashionable bumper sticker for self-aggrandizement and a tedious cliché.

Like the oversized tools referenced in the first paragraph above, Stan was oversized. Tall and with girth that demanded suspenders – which he wore without winking – he possessed an oversized curiosity, an endless ability to forgive and was enviably able to separate an attack on an idea from an attack on an individual.

Grudgeless and optimistic, he wielded administrative tools wisely and pedagogical ones accessibly.

Stan combined the muscularity and focus of the Hine mechanic with the relaxed and easy-going fellow of Chaplin’s character. Stan celebrated the worker for his honesty of practice and modernity for its intellectual adventure. He empirically promoted while practicing the causes of justice, labor and equality. Never settling for simplicity, he insisted on parsimony as much as precision.

But Stan’s most endearing, enduring and enviable personal quality was authenticity. He was genuine to the bone.

— Bruce A. Austin, 9 November 2016

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *