“My heart joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today”: A Tribute to J. Bruce Jacobs

On 24 November 2019, J. Bruce Jacobs became tired and passed away. I was fortunate to have had a brief conversation with him earlier the previous week. I spoke mainly with Jung-Sim, his wife, but was able to exchange a few words with Bruce over the speakerphone. In situations such as this, one never truly knows what to say. I wish I had said more.

In June 2018, during the workshop that inspired this volume, Bruce and I strolled along the banks of the River Ribble in Preston, the city of the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. We had decided that the second day of the workshop should take place at Brockholes, a nature reserve a few miles outside the city. The weather was uncharacteristically gorgeous and the gamble to host an evening’s barbeque truly paid off. As Bruce and I chatted – both shop and personal – I was joyed to hear an upbeat tone in Bruce’s voice once again. It was not long after the workshop ended and the weather closed in, as it does in the north of England, that Bruce called to tell me the news that his cancer had returned. I was numb. We both knew in our silences that this would be Bruce’s last project. The unspoken aspect of it filled me with dread that it might not be completed in time. This fear was realized in November 2019.

For the title of this tribute page, I have chosen a quote from Richard Adams’ masterpiece Watership Down, as I see it fitting in so many ways. I hail from the south and I recall the undulating hills of the South Downs – the backdrop to Adams’ tales – so vividly. That walk on a beautiful June morning, with the explosion of wildlife, the sounds and sights of the Lancashire countryside in June, was so characteristically similar.

Bruce was indisputably a Hazel-rah character. He was both brave and intelligent. He earned the respect of the academic community because his authority and leadership rested on courage and his readiness to utilize the skills of others for the good of the ‘warren’. Throughout his life, Bruce was willing to sacrifice for what he believed in.

Bruce heard and listened to the ‘Black Rabbit of Inle’ and left for the ‘great Owsla’ at the age of 76, but his larger-than-life persona and trademark stubbornness will not be forgotten. He will be remembered for his contagious smile, sparkling blue eyes, gentle heart and amazing sense of humor.

He took tremendous pride in his work and always told you the truth, even if it was not what you wanted to hear. He was generous to a fault, a bunny-rabbit at heart, and yet he sugar-coated absolutely nothing. As Winston Churchill would have put it if he had had the honor of meeting him, “he was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Quite a teller of tales, Bruce’s elaborate stories were often punctuated with that emblematic smile.

He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by many.

Years from now, the children of the ‘warren’ will gather at our annual conferences and hear the great tales of Bruce Jacobs-rah.

My greatest honor is that I knew him. I conversed and debated with him. What I know today, and what I will pass onto the generations to come, is because I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Bruce will forever be a giant in this field of study. Yet my heart still aches that Sojin and I must complete this edited volume without him.

Bruce Jacobs, we thank you, 謝謝你! 감사합니다!

Niki J.P. Alsford