In Memoriam

Kent Maynard, 1947-2014

Kent Maynard, 1947-2014
There are things you likely don’t know about Kent Maynard.
issue 01 | spring 2015
In Memoriam: Kent Maynard

He was a fantastic dancer, for one, moving around the kitchen in the evenings while cooking dinner for his wife, Susan Diduk, and their two daughters. “He could be a serious man,” says Diduk, “but he had a lot of joie de vivre.” He also never complained about his chemo treatments—not once, says Diduk, Denison associate professor of sociology/anthropology—even though he battled cancer for nine years. Perhaps that knowledge came from his work as an anthropologist. “His work made him aware of how fragile and short life is in much of the world,” says Diduk, “and that gave him strength to live with what he faced.”

Maynard’s father was a Biblical scholar who focused on the Old Testament at the University of the Pacific-California, and Maynard’s parents, pacifists, would raise him with religion and spirituality continuously in the background. Though Maynard would grow to become a secular person with an interest in Native American culture and history, that pacifism stuck with him. He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and performed alternative service as a maintenance worker and custodian in a nondenominational church camp, and when he came to Denison in 1981, he did conscientious objector counseling with the students. Though he had moved away from a personal religious life, religion itself often was an underlying current in his work, which started on a Fulbright in 1978 in the Andean Highlands of Ecuador, where he studied Protestant evangelicals and sectarian converts in an area that largely identified as Catholic. “He studied religion as a global phenomenon long before others,” Diduk says. But it became more than a study of a certain population for Maynard. It became a life lesson. “I learned about social adroitness and civility in navigating potentially life-altering situations,” Maynard told Denison Magazine last summer as he prepared to retire after 33 years at the College. During that time, he served as chair of the department, directed the Honors Program, and earned the Charles A. Brickman Teaching Excellence Award.

A social scientist’s work often entails a need for objectivity, but Maynard immersed himself in the worlds in which he lived. For years, he and Diduk traveled to the village of Kedjom Keku in Cameroon as Diduk did her own fieldwork studying social movements in rural communities, and it was there that Maynard developed an interest in indigenous medical systems and that the family developed friendships that spanned an ocean.

Later in life, Maynard set out to earn an M.F.A. in poetry at New England College, a craft he used to detail the societies and people he met throughout his career. “I’ve learned how to write better about the world,” Maynard told Denison Magazine, “and about trying to be faithful to other people who are living emotional and social lives very different from my own.” Maynard was the editor of Medical Identities: Healing, Well-being and Personhood and the author of several books, including Risking Liberation: Middle Class Powerlessness and Social Heroism, co-authored with Denison colleagues Paul King and David Woodyard ’54, and Making Kedjom Medicine: A History of Public Health and Well-being in Cameroon, as well as a poetry chapbook, Sunk Like God Behind the House. Just after his death on Dec. 10, 2014, his most recent work, Coming Closer, the Epistemology of Ethnographic Poetics, was accepted for publication.

Maynard is survived by Diduk and their two daughters, Jemma and Fu Xiang.   

Published July 2015
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