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Henry Gemery's office, tucked under the roof of the front porch of Miller Library, is chock-a-block full of the stuff of some 40 years of teaching and scholarship. File cartons bulging with course notes. Shelves crammed with books and periodicals. Folders stuffed with research materials, most relating to Gemery's specialty,economic history. "It tends to pile over time," he said with a modest smile. "The only solution now is to move me out."
Gemery, the Pugh Family Professor of Economics, retired this spring 43 years after he arrived at Colby with a freshly printed Harvard M.B.A. Though Gemery says he never expected to have just one employer in his career "There are probably three or four of us out of a [Harvard Business School] class of six hundred who stayed with the initial circumstance"), he has no regrets. "It was essentially satisfaction with the combination of research and teaching that was available here."
Both on and off Mayflower Hill, Gemery has ranged far and wide as he examined the forces that have shaped economic history--and he has encouraged legions of Colby students to examine those forces, too. Roving from indentured servants of the 17th century to internal migration during the Great Depression, Gemery has picked away like an archaeological economist, gleaning the data that reveal the facts behind the anecdote. Often the projects were sparked by conversation, usually over tea or lunch, said Jan Hogendorn, Grossman Professor of Economics, who collaborated with Gemery many times over the years: "I've always found it easy to talk to Hank--and fruitful. Somehow the ideas just sparkle when we talk."
The ideas have been sparkling since 1958 when Gemery came to Colby from Harvard to teach administrative science and serve as assistant director of admissions. He left to earn his Ph.D.in economics at the University of Pennsylvania; resisting pressure to move to a research university, he returned to Colby. "I could feel a real pull to get back to teaching routines and the Maine locale," Gemery said.
Over the years, fellowships took Gemery to Harvard and the University of London, as well as the University of Pennsylvania, but the rewards of teaching "graduate-student caliber" students at Colby always brought him back. Now he's looking forward to time at home in Sidney, where he and his wife, Pam, keep bees and raise blueberries, and at his summer home in Georgetown, on the Maine coast. Gemery, who reads phone books when he visits an area for the first time to divine labor migration patterns, will continue to ask--and attempt to answer--the puzzles of history. How, for instance, did Depression-era workers know where to move? "Can individuals forecast where they might gain?" Gemery said. "It raises nice, interesting questions for economics."
At Colby, he did the same.
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