Steve Nock: Scholar and Friend


Before beginning a dissertation, you have to put together a committee to review your work. Three of the members come from your own department; one must be from an outside department. There’s not a whole lot of benefit to faculty members in serving on dissertation committees. It mostly represents extra work. This is quadruply true for the outside reader. Why take on the reading, reviewing, advising for a student who isn’t even in your department?

With this knowledge that the benefit would be entirely on my side of the equation in mind, I approached the door of Steve Nock a few years ago to ask him to serve as my outside reader. I remember the apprehension I felt: while universally acknowledged to be a friendly, nice person, Steve was also a highly-regarded scholar with a national reputation for his writing on family issues from a sociological perspective. He had also managed to champion marriage and family in his research and writing — even defending “covenant marriage” — while maintaining his reputation within the liberal academic establishment. A not inconsiderable feat.

Exactly the person I would most like to have on my committee as the outside reader. Hence the butterflies in my stomach as I knocked on his door.

I still remember the warmth and friendliness he greeted me with, instantly setting me at ease. He expressed interest in my research project and, much to my relief, agreed to serve on the committee.

An outside reader isn’t really obligated to do much on a committee — as long as they show up at the defense and ask a few cogent questions to demonstrate having actually read the dissertation. Steve, however, gave me the benefit of real input and advice as the project went forward. He read early drafts and critiqued my research methodology very thoroughly.

At his memorial service this past Saturday, all these thoughts were going through my mind. Of the great contribution he made to my professional development. Of his great graciousness to me, going above and beyond what he was obligated to offer.

But most of all, what drew us to drive to Charlottesville on such a sad trek was to pay tribute to Steve Nock, the man.

He died suddenly last week of complications from diabetes — he was only 57. Long-term he had struggled with his health in ways I was only marginally aware. Several people mentioned this quality about him at the service: he lived a life of such joy and enthusiasm that very few people outside his family knew of his health challenges.

What a wonderful way to be remembered — as a person who spread joy and made others around him happy. Certainly Steve’s many articles and books create an important intellectual legacy. But what those of us who were fortunate enough to have known Steve Nock will really remember about him was his wonderful smile. . . and that he shared it so readily.


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3 Responses

  1. Jack says:

    Charmaine and Your Business Blogger visited the UVA bookstore after the funeral.

    I overheard some students reading and laughing. They had just bought the Chuck Norris book.

    One of my favorite quotes, “Superman has Chuck Norris pajamas…”

    We also will be getting the Total Fitness exercise machine.

    We need it thanks to the Huckabee campaign trail.

  2. John Owen says:

    Charmaine, Jack: Yes, Steve Nock was an extraordinary scholar — and man. It’s nice to read about how he helped you, and I’m glad you could make it to the moving memorial service here in Charlottesville. Hope you’re all well.

  3. Don Trevillian says:

    I was sorry to hear recently that Steve Nock had passed away. When Steve was back visiting the University of Richmond when he was in graduate school, he overheard me say that some of my baseball teammates and I may go to the midnight movie that Saturday after our doubleheader to see the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Steve asked if I would mind a little friendly, unsolicited advice. He described the movie as being disturbing, and suggested that I choose something else. He had compelling reasons for his opinion. Because of my respect for Steve, I never saw the movie. Now, in honor of his memory, I will never see the movie. Steve – you probably saved me 1000 nightmares over the years. Thanks.

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