A Tribute to John Caldwell 

Ronald M. Peters, Jr.

On February 3, the Carl Albert Center lost a good friend when our former archivist, John Michael (J.C.) Caldwell, died at the age of 47 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident near his hometown of Bernice, Louisiana. 

J.C. came to the University of Oklahoma as a graduate student in the 1970s, worked in the Western History Collection for several years as a graduate assistant, and completed his Master's and Ph.D. degrees in geography. He became the first archivist for the Carl Albert Center Congressional Archives at its inception in 1979 and continued in that position until he left OU in 1992 to accept a faculty appointment at his alma mater, Louisiana Tech University. 

At the Carl Albert Center, J.C. initiated an award-winning series of traveling exhibits on Oklahoma and the U.S. Congress. Not satisfied simply to create the exhibits, he hauled them to public libraries all across the state of Oklahoma. He was successful in obtaining an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Archival Fellowship award for the Center through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and he administered a grant program for visiting scholars. He was active in the Congressional Papers Roundtable of the Society of American Archivists, serving as chair in 1991-1992, and he served on the Executive Board of the Society of Southwest Archivists for several years. 

During his years at the Center, J.C. was also an adjunct assistant professor of historical geography at OU and co-author with Robert Goins of Historical Atlas of Louisiana published by OU Press. As a child, J.C. swore to put Bernice on the map, and as in all of his other endeavors, he succeeded! 

In a 1995 Ruston Daily Leader interview, J.C.'s statements reflected his dedication as a teacher who inspired his students. "We should all know more about the world in which we live," he said. "Every person's life has a potential for enriching the world, and geography should help students understand the world. We're all different in many outward respects, but we should all be working toward some sort of common goal in the end. We should realize that we are all interrelated." He said he spent most of his time teaching and learning about the Earth and felt that knowledge should never be considered useless. "People say, 'Well, what's the purpose of learning? Isn't that useless knowledge?' I say useless knowledge is only knowledge which has yet to be used. Knowledge, like virtue, is its own reward." 

There were many other facets to John Caldwell's life. He was devoted to his family and church. Wherever he lived, he always involved himself in historical societies and other forms of community service. J.C. loved everything that was old: he loved old books, old cars, old houses, old places, old people, and old documents. 

He also loved classical music and the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. He played the piano at a skill level approximately between that of Richard Nixon and Harry Truman. His was the best rendition of the "Archivists' Fight Song!" 

In 1987, J.C. and I took a trip to visit congressional archives in several states. I wanted to learn about cutting edge archival practices; he wanted to be reminded of how much better it was during the 19th century. One night as we were having dinner, I was expounding on my vision for the Carl Albert Center. He said to me, "You know, Ron, I have dreams, too." His dream, he told me, was to teach geography at a small college in Louisiana, to collect old books and young students. J.C. fulfilled that dream, and that is how I shall remember him. 
 


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