After the Capitol Lakes Remembrance Gathering on Thursday, September 8, 2022,
several residents asked me for more detail about my Saturday morning
conversations with Yi-Fu Tuan. They recalled seeing the two of us in deep
conversations in the Henry Street Café, wondered what we talked about, and
wished they had tried to engage Yi-Fu during his many years at Capitol Lakes. Let
me tell you more about these conversations.
Yi-Fu Tuan’s death on August 10, 2022 (see Yi-Fu's obituary "UW–Madison mourns influential, beloved geography professor Yi-Fu Tuan") , ended twenty-five years of our always
stimulating Saturday morning conversations at the campus Starbucks coffee shop
on lower State Street and more recently at Capitol Lakes. These conversations began by accident. My wife Sally and I regularly stopped at the Café Expresso for coffee after our early Saturday morning visits to Madison’s downtown Farmer’s Market and a quick “hello” to our long-time friend and neighbor Caryl Askins who operated Paul’s bookstore. One morning Yi-Fu stopped in for coffee enroute to his office in Science Hall.
The third time this happened, I went over and asked him to join us. He agreed, telling us later that on the previous Saturday he thought about asking if he could join us but worried he might interrupt our newspaper reading.
And so our regular Saturday morning conversations continued, and we soon moved to Starbucks across the street. These conversations were enriched by Yi-Fu’s intellectual curiosity, his wide-ranging knowledge, as well as accounts of his
current writing projects. One of them was his nearly completed autobiography,
Who Am I? After we indicated an interest in reading it, he brought a draft that
described his fascinating childhood in China, his early escape from China, his
education in Australia, England, and Berkeley, and his career as a geographer here
at UW-Madison. Sally, an English instructor at what is now known as Madison College, discovered to Yi-Fu’s embarrassment a couple of minor grammatical errors. With this, he realized we had more serious interests than Badger football and the Green Bay Packers.
And so our Saturday morning conversations continued, going on for an hour and
on occasion a bit longer. These conversations ranged widely and flowed smoothly.
Several topics kept popping up, one being the UW’s ever-growing commitment to
“diversity.” Both Yi-Fu and I had strong objections to the practice of giving
preferences to minority students in admissions and financial aid programs. So after commenting on the latest twist in this unending story, we moved on to discuss more profound topics.
Yi-Fu was a marvelous conversationalist as might be expected by regular readers
of his “Dear Colleague” letters and his many books, most particularly by his best
known book, Space and Place. No matter what the topic of conversation might be, he could offer illuminating comments: historical, philosophical, political, and
geographical. He could pull up comments from his wide-ranging reading and his
incredible memory of writers, such as C. S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, and Hannah
Arendt. His memory showed no sign of decline as he aged. And he charmed his
conversational partners because he was so gentle in his comments about others,
though his attitudes toward them were usually made clear by the questions he
Yi-Fu’s face was engagingly expressive as he talked. When he said something
startling or daring, his eyes brightened. his eyebrows arched upwards, and he
laughed in an impish way, as if to say: ”And what do you think of that?” Often he
spoke with his eyes closed, as if he was trying to visualize how his words would
look in print. At other times he paused while recounting something he read---he
actually stopped talking---leading his listeners to wonder whether he had lost his
way in what he was trying to say. But, then he started up again and went on to
finish his story.
Yi-Fu’s appearance changed with the seasons. In summer he wore a blue
seersucker jacket topped with a tropical pith helmet from his Panama days. In fall,
it was a light jacket and his Minnesota Golden Gophers knit cap to ward off the
chill. Despite his 40 years in Madison, he never sported a Bucky Badger cap,
perhaps because the colors were too bright! In winter he appeared as a looming
giant almost hidden in a bulky parka with his eyes peering out through his fur lined hood.
The only significant and visible change in Yi-Fu’s appearance over the years was
the walking stick given to him by his students. They knew it would help him avert
a fall on the icy streets and sidewalks of Madison’s winters. He soon learned to
know the locations of the worst spots as every morning he strolled down the “Yi-
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.