In Memoriam: Will H. Moore
What brought Will and I together is the thing that took him away: that damned black dog. My own battle with depression and anxiety began in my teens, and has popped up semi-regularly ever since. A particularly nasty struggle went down in my sophomore and junior years at Binghamton. As I fought my way back, I applied to graduate school. I didn’t know what else to do; school was the only thing I was ever really good at. I was rejected across the board based on a 2.9 GPA that I did not address in my statement. My undergrad advisor, Dave Clark, suggested I write an honest explanation — I was not a C student, I was an A student who failed at school (and at life) for a couple of semesters. So I wrote, and I sent it to the graduate admissions chair at FSU, where Dave had done his own graduate work. Six hours later, the reply came back: “Hi, and thanks for following up. As you suspected, your file was rejected based on the cumulative GPA. I’m going to encourage the committee to take a closer look at its contents. On a personal note, I too have battled with depression. I would be neither as happy nor as successful as I am today had I not sought counseling and medication. I applaud you for seeking help. -Will”
Our first lengthy interaction was a road trip to Peace Science in Houston. Eleven hours alone in the car with a timid first year graduate student. Brave guy, that Will. When it was my turn to drive he worked on a manuscript review and described the paper’s theoretical argument, then asked me what I thought. I have absolutely no idea what I said. Years later, Will would tell me that I impressed him on that trip — that he was struck by how quickly I grasped complicated concepts and identified gaps and flaws in causal arguments. I don’t remember any of that. I do remember listening to Dar Williams, and to Sublime. And I remember Will telling me about a two-year-old association called Women in Conflict Studies. Some of the female graduate students were having a dinner that first night in Houston, and he encouraged me to attend. I felt cold. Showing up uninvited to a group event, unfamiliar with the norms and dynamics, knowing no one — these are the things my nightmares are made of. But I did not want to disappoint him, so I breathed and I went. It was the right decision, of course; the women I met that night remain my colleagues, collaborators, and friends. It was the first time, but far from the last, that Will coaxed me from my comfort zone.
In my second year of grad school, I asked him for feedback on a manuscript. I thought I understood his comments, but after reading my revisions he called me to his office. “This is … not better. You’ve taken one step forward and ten steps back.” I was surprised, but receptive. And I think he found my receptiveness surprising; he certainly seemed relieved. “I was telling Kathy last night, I don’t want to have to give Jackie these comments.” At the time, I was focused on the paper. Where had I gone astray? What was the best way forward? Today, what stands out is his reluctance to deliver bad news to the 22-year-old version of me, his hesitancy given social uncertainty, his desire to not cause pain. That was, I think, the last time he hesitated. From then on, the critical feedback came fast and furious. Sometimes I fumed. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes it was both. But I always learned, and grew, and came out better-trained and better-equipped for this job and, to be honest, for this world.
By my third year at FSU, Will had a team of graduate students working under him: myself, Joe Young, Courtenay Conrad, Andy Beger. Danny Hill would arrive the following Fall. On Fridays we would meet for lunch and workshop one of our working papers. We dubbed it “Will Mafia,” a name he loathed. We used it to capture our internal dynamic; he worried about the external signal it sent. His point, now obvious, didn’t occur to me at the time. When he explained what he saw, it made me see. Still, the name stuck. We were, and we remain, a family. Leaderless for the moment, but we will figure it out.
A few years back, he and Christian Davenport launched MINDfields. The project interviews senior scholars of political conflict and peace, to preserve what has been done and understand how we came to where we are. He invited me to come aboard as an interviewer. I was pleased but surprised; I don’t see myself as an especially good listener or conversationalist. I wish I had asked him, why me? I suspect the answer would show me something about myself. This was something at which Will excelled. He saw me, even when I didn’t see. Even when I tried to hide.
Will’s work was important and impactful. His desire to know was relentless and contagious. He was an advocate and he was an ally. He will be remembered for those things, and rightly so. But I … I will remember a tough advisor, and a kind soul. When I needed support, he was supportive. When I needed my ass kicked, he obliged.
I will remember him at my wedding, a Jewish affair on a Florida beach, taking in the ceremony from the back row with a smile on his lips and interest in his eyes. I will remember the nights he came out to see my husband’s band play, him dancing with abandon and seeming oblivion to the crowd, lost in the energy and atmosphere of a live show.
As I reflect on it now, our relationship seems unidirectional. He gave, and I took. He showed me my own strength, pushed me to grow, encouraged me and (I’d like to think) believed in me. As others have said, Will’s thing was “pay it forward.” I have tried to do that, and I will continue. I wish, though, that I had fought to also pay it back. I wish I had told him how much he did, how much he meant, how much I owed. He deserved that. I don’t begrudge you your choices, Will, but I’m gonna miss you something awful. Peace.