Alumni Band Together to Create Hawkes Retirement Gala of Historic Proportions

Posted: April 17, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Robert Hawkes
Robert Hawkes

When Bob Hawkes came to Mason in 1969, there were six academic buildings and 1,200 students. The cafeteria, or the Ordinary (so named for its “ordinary” food, Hawkes quips), was in the basement of the South Building (now Krug Hall) just below the chemistry labs, so the smell of chemicals permeated the food area. Where the Johnson Center, Robinson Hall and other buildings on campus now stand, in 1969 there were only trees leading back toward Braddock Road.

“We were almost unknown,” says Hawkes, history professor and an expert in U.S. southern and Virginia history. “In order to get publicity, we’d have to send a student out to climb the flag pole and then call the [Washington] Post and tell them that. It rarely worked.”

Now with more than 30,000 students and four campuses, Mason is no longer an unknown, especially after the men’s basketball team’s exciting success in the NCAA Tournament this spring gave the Post and other news media plenty to talk about. Thirty-seven years later, Mason has grown to become an innovative research institution with an outstanding faculty and academic programs. And through it all, Hawkes has had a front seat.

“People ask me how I’ve managed to stay at the same institution for so long. To them I say, ‘In 37 years, I have been at many different institutions.’ What characterizes George Mason is change. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere where there isn’t change.”

One thing that hasn’t changed over time is student devotion to Hawkes. In all those years of pounding facts into and sharing interesting stories about southern history with his students, Hawkes created a long list of people who remember and miss his teaching. When he announced his retirement this year, many of those devotees clamored for a way to celebrate his service.

Several Mason alumni, all former students of Hawkes, are planning a retirement dinner and tribute to the man whom they call their most influential teacher. To be held at the Country Club of Fairfax on April 23, the celebration will represent Hawkes’ career with an Old South theme. Reservations for the dinner are still being taken. Contact Chrisi West at cwest6@gmu.edu or 703-993-8720 to make a reservation.

“One of my most influential professors was Bob Hawkes,” says Stephen Karbelk, BA History ’92 and co-founder and a former president of the History and Art History Alumni Chapter. “When we heard he was retiring, we wanted to go all out and have a big party for him.”

Rob Paxton, BA History ’79, credits Hawkes with many lessons in not only history, but also human nature, diversity and writing. “He instilled a love of learning, and it’s helped me tremendously in life.”

Paxton is also helping with the retirement dinner and encourages anyone with a story about Hawkes to get in touch with him. “Even after the dinner is over, it would be great to have an ongoing connection with people.”

The event is just one aspect of the tribute being paid to Hawkes. Alumni are working with Jack Censer, chair of the History and Art History Department, to raise money for an endowed chair in Bob Hawkes’ name.

“This chair would reflect the tradition of Hawkes’ hands-on, careful concern for students and his committed effort to the institution,” says Censer. “That kind of teaching has been a tradition of the History Department, and Hawkes has been a role model for that.”

Hawkes says he will dearly miss teaching students. He says he still remembers his favorite comment ever written on an evaluation form: “In every lecture, you gave me something that I thought about for the rest of the day.”

“That was such a moving comment,” he says. “That’s what I always wanted to be as a teacher.”

About the dinner and the endowed chair effort, Hawkes says, “I am flattered and honored beyond belief. I’m hoping this will give me more opportunities to reconnect with former students. It’s wonderful.”

After retirement, Hawkes’ plans are simple. The historian, who among other things values a sense of humor, says, “I’m going to see if I can still plow behind a mule.” His students, he claims, will understand.

For more information or to donate toward the fund for the Bob Hawkes endowment, contact Tere Linehan, assistant dean, at 703-993-8719 or tlinehan@gmu.edu.

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