Celebratory Remarks: Danielle Haase-Dubosc (1939-2017)

by Jonathan R. Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University, Provost and Dean of Faculties, Emeritus

It is both an honor and privilege to be asked to make some remarks on the occasion of celebrating the career and life of my close friend and colleague, Danielle Haase-Dubosc.  For me, I must say, it is also a sad moment.  Her voice has been stilled and I, and others, will not have her to talk with and have her articulate so clearly the human values that she espoused and embodied.

I came to know Danielle, Dani for some of us who were permitted to use her nickname, when I was Vice President of Arts and Sciences in the late 1980s and she was already very much in charge of Reid Hall in Paris, as its Executive Director. She rapidly became a close friend of my wife, Joanna, and me.

Reid Hall, bequeathed to the University in the early part of the 20th century by a Barnard College alumna, was in the 1980s offering teaching programs for students who wished to spend a semester or a year in Paris – ostensibly to learn French and enjoy France.  Located in the now fashionable part of Paris, just south of the Luxembourg Gardens in Montparnasse, Danielle through force of will and intellect kept this beautiful space – its quadrangle and interior gardens -from vanishing. I would be lying to you, or at least sugarcoating the truth, if it I said it was easy for Danielle to make ends meet in those days.  The physical structure of the Hall was decaying rapidly; it had little financial support from the University and its main potential source for students, Columbia College, or from Columbia’s superb Department of French and Comparative Literature were prevented often from applying for the study abroad program.  To survive, it rented out space to other colleges for their students to study in France; it had to offer space for a fee to other Columbia programs, such as the Architectural School’s design studios in Paris, and it received no tuition for Columbia students who studied there and no base budget support for its facilities or other core operations. 

It was, in short, a mess that only a Danielle Haas-Dubosc could cope with and, despite it being on life-support, could make it survive for those students.  In fact, things had gotten so bad at the Hall that Columbia seriously contemplated selling this extraordinary piece of Parisian property and getting out of the business of the French study abroad enterprise.  Only the then provost, Ted de Bary and the ever optimistic Danielle, saved Reid Hall. It is not hyperbole to say, that Dani was the real savior of the Hall.  And, she did so in her own indefatigable way.  An observation made by Caitlin Hawke, an alum of Reid Hall, captures what “living” at Reid Hall meant to so many Columbia students over the years:  “The true birthplace,” Caitlin said, “is the one wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself.  For me, that would be 4 rue de Chevreuse.”  Danielle helped hundreds of young people reach that same understanding through her stewardship of Reid Hall.

Danielle was full of thoughts about how to transform the Hall into a unique site for Columbia – a global center before such entities were even imagined.  And she worked on the new provost, who was sympathetic to many of her ideas and her vision, to transform Reid Hall.  We did that through a multi-phased project.  First, we redefined Reid Hall as part of the greater Columbia campus – making it eligible for capital funds to revitalize its facilities.  Then we decided, after the Architecture School did not renew its lease for space, to create an Advanced Institute for Scholars.  Columbia would begin to fund that effort and would build up an annual budget to support the Institute.  Danielle believed that we should, of course, have space for Columbia scholars, but she also was by her nature an internationalist who believed that we should offer opportunities for scholars from Africa, Asia, South Asia and elsewhere to work and exchange ideas at Reid Hall.  What had been a rundown, dilapidated space, which happened to have several small apartments located within it, spaces often used by people like Edward Said when they passed through Paris, became a true center for scholarly research, seminars, and exchange of ideas.  Of course, the undergraduate programs continued and began to blend into the scholars programs.  I was a fortunate beneficiary of Danielle’s work at Reid Hall, often occupying a study set aside for the itinerant scholar who would spend few weeks or a month in Paris.

Danielle always knew the value of a dollar, a franc, or a euro, and she used her impeccable taste to “outfit” each study in a different way – each one unique with tables, chairs, etchings, woodcuts, and paintings, as well as storage space that was obtained from the large French flea markets or at other bargain basement sites that she knew of in Paris.  She created a touch of Paris and its history in each study – a touch of Danielle in every corner of the Hall.  Today, of course, Reid Hall is part of the Columbia Global Centers project that is very ably led by Paul LeClerc – also a Columbia Ph.D. and scholar of French literature prior to his presidency of Hunter College and his time as President and CEO of the New York Public Library.

There is far more to Danielle than Reid Hall.  She was first a scholar of Comparative Literature, who received her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1971.  She taught at Barnard, and lectured widely in France, the United States, India, among other places.  She was the author and editor of a number of important books, often focusing on the role of women in India and other societies.  She wrote about the role of women in these societies, for which she was acknowledged and honored.  The books and essays were all done while she administered and remodeled Reid Hall.  She was an intellectual with an ability for administration; not an administrator with a taste for scholarship. She never abandoned her scholarly interests and work.

This brings me to the most wonderful couple: Danielle and Dominique – and to the way Danielle put into practice her humane values.  Dani was a person who believed fiercely in the idea of “justice.”  It is perhaps why she and I became close friends.  But she shared her heart and aspirations most often with her best friend and husband, Dominique du Boosc, the distinguished French documentary filmmaker.   For example, Danielle was a great believer in the rights of Palestinians to live their own, self-determined life without subjugation from the Israeli government.  Dominique not only believed in the same idea and held similar values, but he also tried quite successfully to capture on film the everyday life of the Palestinians living in Gaza or the West Bank.  Danielle would accompany Dominique on a number of those rather hazardous filming expeditions to Palestine, always supporting his work and his point of view – not out of allegiance to her husband, but out of her own deep convictions.  And so it was, for many of Dominique’s projects.  They were his, but she was about as good an “assistant,” critic, and advocate as one could hope for.  While attending to the Hall, carrying forth her scholarship, and assisting Dominique construct extraordinary documentaries, Danielle was an attentive parent to her children and her grandchildren, for whom she always, somehow, loved dearly and found time to help was needed.

Finally, one cannot let this moment pass without noting how both Danielle and Dominique took so much pleasure in the simple, but beautiful, things that surrounded them – and how they tried to make those things even more beautiful.  Joanna and I once visited Danielle and Dominique at their weekend and summer home in Burgundy.  They had converted a barn-like space into a house and once again had furnished it in ways that reminded one of Danielle’s style and taste when fleshing out the structures at Reid Hall.  Their home was on a hillside and they had planted their little, but truly extraordinarily beautiful and productive garden of vegetables and flowers. 

I remember the time when Joanna and I decided we would celebrate Danielle’s and Dominique’s formal wedding by inviting them to dinner at Le Grand Vefour, in the Palais Royal’s Gardens.  It was an old fashioned, and in many ways stodgy restaurant.  I remember how Dominique, who never wore a tie, began to ask the sommelier, who was of course dressed in black tie, incessant questions about the various bottles of wine on its heralded list.  Danielle, one could see, felt this was a little much, but we all decided to sit back and be educated about the various French wines that we knew little about.  Dominique asked the questions; sampled a few and Dani, Joanna, and I had a lesson in French wines.  She was always learning and creating.

Joanna and I will miss her voice, her stories, her smile and laughter, and the serious conversations that we would invariably have at their home in Paris or ours on Riverside Drive.  When these voices are silenced, something is lost in the universe – and when I heard the news of Dani’s death I felt an immediate vacuum because we had lost someone who made a difference and who cherished what I surely believe were the right values that we ought to be guided by in these troubled times.