By Jeff Salzgeber
Photo courtesy Jeff Salzgeber
In the summer of 1995, I was working at CNN, and had placed a housemate ad in the local newspaper.
Stuart Hysom called to respond to the ad, having just moved to town to start a master’s and PhD program in sociology at Emory, where he’d been accepted on full scholarship.
He wasn’t at all what I expected.
Stuart walked into the room looking totally rock and roll, funky from head to toe. He had shoulder length hair, big hoop earrings, a few tattoos, and a black leather jacket. He had driven cross-country from San Francisco (staying at rest stops along the way) with all of his belongings strapped to a bright orange, 1962 International Scout that he called “Gerty.”
Needless to say, I was intrigued. We became housemates and, many months later, partners.
As I got to know Stuart, I came to see that he was a fascinating study in contrasts. He was incredibly bright and, at times, even a little bit nerdy, yet looked like a model. He was openly gay, drove motorcycles and funky cars, and didn’t smoke or drink. He also had a wonderful way about him that alternated between youthful enthusiasm and jaded sarcasm . . . often in the same sentence. His favorite expressions were “flawless” and “tragic.”
When it came to friendships, he embraced the weird, the wounded, and the witty. His closest friends from the Bay Area included “Snake Show Bob,” who was obsessed with reptiles of all kinds, and “Purple Jack,” an English professor-turned-cab driver who wore purple every day, as he had advanced to that level on the chakra color chart.
Did I even need to say that Stuart was a sociologist?
As a graduate student at Emory, Stuart studied small group processes within the discipline of social psychology. He was especially interested in how status, rewards, and legitimacy processes affected human interaction, and how larger social structures influenced those processes.
His research often entailed running groups in the social psychology lab in Tarbutton Hall. His work appeared in several of the most prestigious of journals in the discipline of sociology, including American Sociological Review and Social Forces.
Those early years in Atlanta were a magical time for Stuart and me. I supported him in his dreams, including his quest to become a professor, and he supported me in my career as a journalist. Along the way, we had a lot of fun. He would sometimes turn on the television, tune in to CNN, and then call me at work to say, “Walk behind the news anchors so I can see you!”
Stuart won the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship in 1999; he was also awarded a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement grant. Stuart received his master’s degree from Emory in 2002 and a PhD in 2003, then stayed on for a year as a visiting assistant professor.
I’ll never forget his recounting the story of an Emory student coming to see him to dispute a grade. The student very matter-of-factly told Stuart, “The way I see it, my parents pay a lot of money for me to go to Emory. So, in my mind, professors here are like used car salespeople. You give us a grade, and that’s the starting point for the negotiation process.”
Without missing a beat, Stuart replied, “All right then. I’m a used car salesman. But think of me as a BMW dealer. I’m going to be really nice, but I’m not negotiating.”
In 2004, Stuart was hired as an assistant professor at Texas A&M University. Over the years, I watched him grow from an idealistic graduate student to a seasoned scholar who was genuinely concerned with his students’ well-being and development. He would often use creative ways to engage students, such as having them play Monopoly to better understand social stratification.
I really felt like I’d won the lottery with Stuart at my side. And, the beautiful thing is, he felt the same way about me. Stuart lived a very large life and blazed a glorious trail, both personally and professionally. May all of us in the Emory community embrace and celebrate life as fearlessly as he did.