A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

George Rogers

George Rogers, a man I admired greatly, died this past week in Juneau at the age of 93.

What does George have to do with children’s books in the North? George was one half of a 69-year partnership in marriage with Jean Rogers, the author of several Alaskan classics for children, including King Island Christmas; Goodbye, My Island; Runaway Mittens; and The Secret Moose. I met George through Jean, with whom I became friends back when I first started writing children’s books.

Jean and George invited me to stay with them several times while I was visiting Juneau for various reasons. Though his accomplishments were many, the George I knew was one of the kindest, most unassuming people I’ve met. He was also one of the most interesting.

As others have said, George was a Renaissance man. He designed their homes (two, because the first one burned down), wrote books, sketched, sang, acted in community theater, served on the Juneau assembly, and raised six children with Jean. Just being in their home, filled with books and art, color and design and architectural surprises, was a pleasure.

A Harvard-trained economist. These days, that phrase conjures up connections to elite Wall Street consultants, think-tank schemers, and billionaire CEOs. Though George was indeed a Harvard-trained economist for the state of Alaska, none of those images fit George. He put his talents to work designing some of Alaska’s basic institutions, both before and after statehood. For him, economics wasn’t an abstract theory, or a tool for personal profit, but a system of exchange that existed for the well-being of people within society.

During one of our first conversations (probably in the mid-nineties), I asked him about the Great Depression. All my life I’d heard stories from my mother about growing up during the Depression but I never quite understood why it happened. Recently I’d read that an underlying cause had been the disparity between rich and poor. George explained that any time there is a concentration of wealth in too few hands, social and economic chaos eventually follows. In a healthy economic system money flows throughout society relatively freely, like blood throughout a body, carrying oxygen to all its cells. I’ve thought about that conversation many times over the years, as wealth and power have concentrated more and more to record levels in the U.S.

George was right.

In a time when self-promotion is considered not just desirable, but essential, we seldom see the words “modest” and “accomplished” together. But that was George. I am blessed to have known him.

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