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In Remembrance of Ducky

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Joined: 10 Dec 2005
Posts: 355
Location: New Orleans

PostPosted: Mon Sep 04, 2006 10:14 am    Post subject: In Remembrance of Ducky Reply with quote

It's almost been one year since Dr. Riess died alone on a military transport plane going between New Orleans and Shreveport.

I'll never forget you, Ducky.

I wrote this a while ago and I sent it in to the Hullabaloo, PKS, and a couple of other places, but I don't know exactly what happened to it. I didn't want it to be forgotten, so here it is.


By William Clay Kirby, E ’06
Dr. John Karlem “Ducky” Riess is not so much a man as an institution. He was a part of the fabric of Tulane more than the buildings. Whether you had him as a professor, a fraternity advisor, or as a mentor, those who knew him loved him. Dr. Riess developed an incredible personal connection to just about everyone he ever met.
I’ve escorted him the last few years to graduation events, and one of the most exiting times for him was the breakfast with the fifty-year reunion class. Most came back not just for Tulane, but to see Ducky. He would remember people he hadn’t seen in decades.
My own connection to the man is more familiar. My grandfather and Ducky were best friends since the ’20s, and I’ve known Dr. Riess ever since I was born. I remember sneaking out of church to talk with Ducky instead of listening to the sermon. He’d regale the youth, especially the male youth, with stories of his shenanigans at Tulane. He recruited a lot of bright local students to Tulane that way. My original plan was to go to Georgia Tech or the Naval Academy for engineering, but Ducky took me out to lunch several times and told me stories that enticed me away from these other schools.
I came to Tulane and pledged Phi Kappa Sigma, the same fraternity as Dr. Riess. Ducky was the advisor for Phi Kap from the time of World War II through this past summer. Stellis Aequus Durando (“Equal to the Stars in Endurance”) is Phi Kap’s motto, and Ducky epitomized that motto. Think of one institution that has had that consistent a force over the course of such a long period of time. Many people talk about giving 100 percent, but Ducky was one of those rare individuals who really gave everything his all. He lived with his sister, Mary, almost all his life. He never married, and though he never had any children of his own, he had the fraternity members, who were like sons to him.
Many hold distain for the Greek system, but Dr. Riess firmly believed in its potential to mold men. His dedication was unwavering, and the best example I can give of the effect of his time with the fraternities comes from his memorial service. The entire fraternity (about fifty members) came in suits and ties on a Friday afternoon to honor him.
One of Dr. Riess’s greatest assets was his unconditional love of students. Sure, he’d make his rounds on fraternity row and tell everyone in no uncertain terms to BEHAVE, but at the end of the day, he forgave transgressions. He’d listen to anything you had to say, and while he was always brutally honest (whether you wanted him to be or not), he would never judge you, no matter what sin you had committed.
Dr. Riess’s health finally started to decline last spring at the age of 92. Despite not being able to stand, he stubbornly insisted on attending Tulane’s commencement ceremony at the Superdome last May. I’m looking at our picture together as I write this piece. He confided in me privately that he was so happy at that ceremony, he wished he had died there. That is how much he loved Tulane. I visited him weekly over the summer just to check up on him and cheer him up. His mind was always sharp, even as his body failed him.
Katrina did more than just destroy buildings. Ducky refused to evacuate because he wanted to die at the home his father had built on Audubon Boulevard. I last talked to him the Wednesday after Katrina. Despite his basement being flooded, he was upbeat and was wondering when Vincent’s restaurant was going to reopen. When I said goodbye, he gave me his usual advice: “Keep your pants on and stay out of trouble.” Little did I know that would be the last time I’d get to speak with him.
He was evacuated from New Orleans later that week.
During the evacuation, he was separated from his sister, Mary. He died alone on a military transport plane en route to Shreveport. We didn’t know what had happened to him, and we couldn’t find his body for a full month. When Stanley Cohn, Ducky’s lawyer, found out where he was, I called Mary, only to be horrified that she didn’t yet know. The way Ducky died still haunts me.
I don’t want to end the story on a down note, so I’ll ask a favor from each one of you. Close your eyes and think of Ducky. Picture him smiling and laughing.
Clay Kirby
11th generation New Orleanian
4th generation Tulanian
Mechanical Engineering Class of '06
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