Hal Sheets dies: former student and great friend

Dear University of Texas at Austin American Studies community member,

Hal Sheets, who received his Ph.D. from our graduate program back when it was still called the American Civilization Program and who was a dear friend to all who knew him, died on October 27. His wife, Ladd
Frisby Sheets, writes of his death, then five of his colleagues remember him.

Dear Friends-

I am sorry to have to be bringing you this news via email rather than a personal call.  Hal passed away peacefully in his sleep at home early today with family around him.  He had been battling cancer for several years.  His recent decline was much more rapid than we expected, and that is a blessing for him.  The one fear he had was that he would linger in some depleted state.

We are dealing with this loss as best we can, and I am very fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive family and friends.

Love to you all,


Bill Stott:

Hal and I began at UT the same fall, 1971, he as a graduate student, I as an assistant instructor who hadn't finished his dissertation. The next fall I taught an introduction to American civilization course in which Hal, Suzanne Buckley, and Mark Smith were class discussion leaders. Preparing the course Hal and I bonded big time. He taught me how to make slides for classroom use; as important, he got me interested in architecture, which continued to be an interest and may be reflected in my son having become an architect. We confided in each other about our fears and concerns about the program and his progress in it. I felt him then and after to be the brother or close male cousin I never had. Though I didn't say it then --as I should have and would (and do!) now--I loved him and hope he felt much the same toward me.
Later, I was flattered but felt it entirely appropriate that I got to write the most important letter I ever wrote: to the Edna Gladney Center, accompanying the successful adoption application Ladd and he made. When they adopted a second child, I got to write a follow-up letter praising them both and meaning every word of it.
Not having known of Hal's illness, I'll never believe him gone; he'll always be in my heart, as positive, energetic, manly, ruminative, and suddenly funny as I knew him to be. His immense kindness and concern are visible in the photo of him below.

Suzanne Buckley:

Hal and I shared an office when we were graduate students, and my day often started with a big smile from the teddy bear of a man I came to know as Hal. He was generous, warm-hearted, fair, and humble, and often very funny. He had integrity and a deep commitment to his family, which I respected, and a great interest in ideas in those days of Goetzomania. When it came time for PhD orals, Hal and Steve Pyne and I studied together. Because architecture was one of my fields, I inhaled everything I could from Hal's vast store of knowledge, and from Steve, well, I just held my breath and tried to keep up! Together we were the first "SOS" class. We had tee-shirts made--I remember mine said "Art for art's sake," we were so idealistic then!--and passed on shirts to the orals candidates after us. Those were beautiful days, and Hal's friendship is something I will always treasure.

Jeff Meikle:

I'm saddened to learn only today of Hal's death.  I was out of the country and not checking email.  He was a great person.  Bill's story of the copy stand reminds me that Hal inadvertently taught dozens of later students how to use it--by teaching me.

Emily Cutrer:

Hal was among a group of much-admired "elder" graduate students when I first joined the American Studies program, first as an undergraduate and then a graduate student myself in the early 70s. Our "younger" generation looked up to him as someone with deep knowledge about American culture, a commitment to living a scholar's life, and the savvy to make his way through a challenging--and often mysterious--program. While I'm saddened by news of his loss, I'm also gratified to learn from colleagues about the good life that he led.

Mark Smith:

The first time I encountered Hal was in the initial class of a graduate seminar at the University of Texas in 1971.  Scarily enough, it was with Bill Goetzmann, who after a very few pleasantries asked us first years why we were in grad school and what we had to offer.  Luckily for us, Suzanne was first and she spoke of dance, modernism, and creativity and, if memory recalls, threw in a couple of dance movements as a bonus.  Bill was overjoyed.  I felt sorry for the next guy, who turned out to be Hal, who, in turn, launched a ten-minute brilliant overview of the historic, cultural, and even aesthetic history of American architecture.  (I could be wrong, though Hal never said anything in ten minutes or less.) Bill Goetzmann stared at him and said, “Vincent Scully.  Yale.”  Hal grinned and stared back.

And at that moment two questions entered my mind as I crouched in a far corner: “What the hell am I going to say?”  (Those who know me know that “hell” was not the operative word.)  And ”How the hell am I going to pick up my game so I can hang with these people and stay in graduate school?”   And, although our meetings were infrequent after grad school, Hal always reminded me of those questions every time he opened his mouth.  Except, of course, those many times when he launched his booming and infectious laugh and you happily joined in.

Go in peace, my friend.


Harold Frank Sheets III

Harold Frank Sheets III, died peacefully with family around him on Wednesday, October 27, 2010, age 67. He is survived by his wife, Ladd Frisby Sheets, and his children, Abigail Sheets Gibson and Jacob Austin Sheets. He is also survived by his sister, Ferne Elizabeth Sheets-Archibald; his brother, George Archibald Sheets; and his grandson, David Philip Gibson. In addition he is survived by his nephews: Ben Sheets and Nicholas (Pelu) Sheets; and niece, Penny Sheets.

Dr. Hal Sheets was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and lived in Argentina and Venezuela until his family moved back to the States in 1957. He graduated from The Gunnery in 1961 and earned a B.A. in Architecture from Yale University in 1965, and a Master's and PhD. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 1975. He taught U.S. History and Spanish in several private schools over the years ending up his career at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, where he taught U.S. History and was chair of the History Department for 12 years. Writing novels and building ship models were his favorite ways to spend time when not involved with his students and classes. In addition, there were many home remodeling projects over the years that he took great pride in.

The family wishes to express deep appreciation to Isidore Newman School's staff and students for their continued support over the last few years. Thanks also go to St. Catherine's Hospice for their care and concern for our every need. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Tulane Cancer Center with a designation for "Sartor-Cancer Research" on the memo line: Dr. Oliver Sartor, 1430 Tulane Avenue, SL-78, New Orleans, LA 70112. Arrangements are being handled by LAKE LAWN METAIRIE FUNERAL HOME. To view and sign the guestbook go to www.lakelawnmetairie.com

Published in The Times-Picayune on October 31, 2010

The writer Mark Dow pays eloquent tribute to Hal as a teacher at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/span-a-remembrance/.

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