Yolande Du Bois Irvin has died. She was 89. Almost always when her name was mentioned someone added that she was the granddaughter of W.E.B Du Bois. And that is true. But she was far more than her connection to her historic grandfather.
She was warm, kind, witty, trenchant, thoughtful, practical.
She was a supportive and loyal friend, a compassionate yet demanding teacher, a
scholar of life. I never knew her in her role as a therapist but I’m sure she
was excellent in that role as well because she never did anything with less
than 100% commitment.
I knew her as a faculty member at Xavier University of
Louisiana, in the Psychology Department. I was chair of the department when she
was hired and it was a real coup for us to get her. Despite being Du Bois’s
chair for much of her time at Xavier, she was—in fact—my mentor. And I
was already 28 when I met her. She taught me many things, which I continue to
pass on to my own students to this day, and which I use as guides in my day-to-day
She was so very much alive that it’s hard for me to
believe now that she is not. She left Xavier after Hurricane Katrina and
relocated to Colorado. For the first ten years or so after that, we spoke at
least once a year on the phone. That frequency gradually decreased, as is common
in such cases.
Even though I had not talked to her for several years,
she was always a background presence for me. I thought of her many times
throughout the year, most often during the school semesters when I’d be passing
on a bit of her wisdom to my brand-new classes of fresh-faced students. I will
continue to pass that wisdom on, as long as I’m around to do so.
Du Bois, it is an honor to have known you. And an
honor to remember you. Godspeed!