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History professor Cissie Fairchilds remembered for generosity, spirit

October 1, 2017 | By Sam Ogozalek, The Daily Orange

Cissie FairchildsCissie Fairchilds’ office door was always open.

Fairchilds, a professor emerita of history in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, voluntarily set aside personal time in her day to talk about dissertations or early modern European history with students.

“My whole intellectual outlook, my teaching style, they all allot to Cissie,” said Dennis Frey, an associate professor of history at Lasell College and former Syracuse University graduate student, who worked with Fairchilds in the early to mid-1990s. “I wouldn’t be where I am without her generosity.”

Fairchilds, a longtime SU professor who had been diagnosed with cancer, died early last week at Crouse Hospital. She was 72. 

She was a particularly gifted instructor who devoted her life to documenting social issues in France, colleagues said. She was always willing to help others, and many students grew to rely on her mentorship.

“The graduates were lucky to have that,” said Frederick Marquardt, an assistant professor emeritus of history at Maxwell and friend of Fairchilds’.

Fairchilds specialized in 18th century French history. She also researched the history of women living in early modern Europe and published three books, one focusing on charity and poverty in a small French city called Aix-en-Provence.

Another book, published in 1984, detailed relationships between masters and servants in Old Regime France.

“Her writing, and just her arguments orally … crystal clear,” Marquardt said.

She was a “pathbreaker,” Frey said. But she never craved the spotlight in any way. Fairchilds only went about her job, he said, helping others. Frey worked as a teaching assistant in some of Fairchilds’ undergraduate classes.

Outside of the classroom, Frey met with Fairchilds in independent study sessions. Marquardt was the first reader on Frey’s dissertation committee. Fairchilds was the second reader. The amount of source material from Fairchilds was key to his success, Frey said. In 1993, he received a master’s in European history at SU.

Norman Kutcher, chair of the Maxwell history department, worked with Fairchilds for years. Fairchilds started at SU as an associate professor of history in 1977. Kutcher started at Maxwell as an assistant professor of history in 1991.

“She didn’t put up with nonsense,” Kutcher said. But, Fairchilds also had “an impish side,” Marquardt wrote in a separate obituary for his colleague. She was an avid baseball fan and, for years, held Syracuse Chiefs season tickets.

Fairchilds suggested university academics be restructured like professional baseball farm systems, Marquardt wrote. New Ph.D.’s could start out at the minor leagues: small colleges.

Then, they could move up to the majors, working at prestigious institutions, Fairchilds joked.

If Ph.D.’s had problems, Fairchilds said they could be “sent down” to work on their “delivery or swing,” Marquardt wrote.

When Fairchilds was in the hospital, Marquardt said he offered to bring her the memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, a Jewish businesswoman who grew up in Hamburg, Germany, during the 17th century.

But, Fairchilds told him not to worry. She was already engrossed in John Le Carre’s latest novel, Marquardt wrote. Le Carre is a pseudonym for British author David John Moore Cornwell, who writes espionage novels.

Fairchilds could surprise you, Marquardt said.

“She was amazing, simply amazing, and will be sorely, sorely missed,” Frey said.