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Thomas P. Saine (1941–2013)

From: Goethe Yearbook
Volume 21, 2014
pp. xi-xviii | 10.1353/gyr.2014.0027

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Tom Saine as a Yale senior in 1962. Courtesy of Gail Hart.

Tom Saine and Goethe

Tom Saine was not only a scholar of the Goethezeit. He was, as they say, a huge fan of Goethe. He had many many books by Goethe, as well as several complete editions. Drawings and Goethe-related images adorned the walls of his study. In the late 1980s, he discovered vanity license plates and was very disappointed to learn from the DMV that someone else in California already had the GOETHE plate. So he ordered GOETHE-1 and proudly affixed it to a series of automobiles. When he bought his first motorcycle in the early [End Page xi] 1990s, he did manage to get the GOETHE motorcycle plate; clearly bikers are less interested in the German classics than motorists.

GOETHE-1 figured somewhat prominently in a 2009 campus novel, Der gestohlene Abend by Wolfram Fleischhauer. Fleischhauer had been an international graduate student in Critical Theory at UC Irvine in the late ’80s and used his experiences as a basis for the novel. A thinly disguised Ruth Angress counsels the young German protagonist on his course of study and our hero occasionally sees an elusive automobile with GOETHE-1 plates disappearing into faculty housing. Fleischhauer told us that this was based on real life: he had been surprised and intrigued to see that honored name from the German school curriculum on a car bumper in Southern California and Ruth and I petitioned Tom for an old plate, which she mailed to Fleischhauer in Germany. He has displayed it at readings.

Tom moved to Texas, to the outskirts of Dallas in 2010 and soon after he sent me a photo of his Texas license plate. Despite significant German settlement and continued presence in the Lone Star State, no one had yet laid claim to the Texas GOETHE vanity plate and Tom was able to procure this prize. One of the last pictures I have from him shows the license plate on the back of his Infiniti G37S and, reflected in the shiny bumper, triumphant Tom with his camera.

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Tom Saine’s Texas license plate, 2010. Courtesy of Gail Hart.

[End Page xii]

The sad news from Dallas of Tom Saine’s death has brought back some happier memories. Tom became my colleague when he arrived at the University of California, Irvine, in 1975 as an Associate Professor. I had come to Irvine from Yale University a year earlier, fresh out of graduate school. We had barely known one another in New Haven. Tom had been an undergraduate at Yale, then a graduate student, Assistant Professor and, finally, an Associate Professor. With a young family and a demanding research agenda, he arrived in Irvine to join an expanding German Department in a university that had first opened its doors only ten years earlier. Within a year he was promoted to Full Professor and named the department’s chair. His academic ambitions dovetailed perfectly with the department’s press to establish a top-flight graduate program.

Tom quickly became a friend. Far more important than the Yale connection was our shared interest in the eighteenth century and in Goethe. Tom was generous in his invitations to join his family on weekends. He proudly shared volumes from his ever-expanding personal library—he was an avid collector—and he loved to talk late into the night about the intellectuals and theological radicals of the German Enlightenment. He happily introduced his friends to one another. Among the department’s steady and impressive list of guest professors are several whose professional relationships with Tom had been or would be transformed into personal ones, marked by mutual intellectual regard. I am thinking particularly of Hans R. Vaget, Uwe-K. Ketelsen, Hans-Wolf Jäger, and Bengt S. Rensen, all guests in that first decade.

The Goethe Society of North America was born in this milieu, a product of heady evening conversations about the state of Germanistik, in general, and American Goethe studies, in particular. As plans for the society took shape and its initial leadership was identified, the yearbook editorship went to Tom. He...

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