It wasn’t difficult to measure Charles Bracelen Flood’s symbiotic relationship with Eastern Kentucky University Libraries when a new study and collaboration space was dedicated in the late author’s honor on Friday, Oct. 2.
You could gauge it in the crowd of 100-plus individuals, from both on and off campus, who braved a chilly, rainy October morning to attend a ceremony in the basement of John Grant Crabbe Main Library.
You could measure it in the 11,000-quare-foot space itself, which in many ways reflects Flood’s often-stated desire to see students interact, make exciting discoveries together and learn from one another.
But, most of all, you could see it in the tears that flowed freely, from speakers and audience members alike, as Flood was remembered and celebrated by those who knew him best, including current and former Libraries officials and Flood’s own daughter, Lucy, among a large contingent of Flood family members who came from various states across the nation to attend the event.
By ceremony’s end, it was difficult to discern who harbored the most love and admiration for the other: Libraries staff for Flood, or Flood for the Libraries staff. It was finally determined that the success of each hinged in no small measure on the other.
Flood, who conducted research for his 14 books in many of the world’s leading academic libraries, often said that EKU Libraries ranked among the very best. In fact, the New York City native and Harvard grad did the bulk of the research for some of his most revered works in Eastern’s John Grant Crabbe Main Library, where he was furnished his own office and interacted regularly with staff, faculty and students alike.
Little wonder Lucy Flood, when she stood to speak, declared, “It’s an emotional day for me.” Speaker after speaker, including EKU President Michael Benson, shared their own recollections of a man current EKU Libraries Dean Betina Gardner called “our great friend” and a highly valued member of the EKU family. Some of the memories were poignant, others comical, but they all painted a portrait of Flood as a compassionate man who cared deeply about people, a trait that distinguished his writing as he labored to present his subjects as multi-dimensional, with a novelist’s eye for detail.
Gardner remembered how Flood often made her and other staff members feel special, not only in his daily conversations with them but also through the acknowledgements in his books.
Her predecessor as dean, Carrie Cooper, was among those fighting back tears. Cooper, now dean of Swem Library for The College of William and Mary in Virginia, said Flood “made me feel invincible at times I needed it most.”
She also recalled how Flood was the key figure in the resurrection of Friends of EKU Libraries. “He is a tremendous figure” in the history of EKU Libraries.
Lee Van Orsdel, dean of EKU Libraries from 1999 to 2005 and now dean of Grand Valley State University Libraries, recalled Flood’s “great mind, great heart and great sense of humor. The memories of our friendship will delight me to the end of my days.”
An Alabama native, Van Orsdel said her favorite Flood book was “Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won the Civil War” because it offered a more sympathetic view of the often-maligned Grant. “I fell in love with Ulysses S. Grant. I wept through it.”
Lucy Flood focused her remarks on the research, largely in Paris, that led to her father’s final book, “First to Fly: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille, the American Heroes Who Flew for France in World War I,” published after his death. Kirkus Reviews called it a “top-notch military history” and fellow author Sidney Offit said, “The reader is rewarded by an achievement of literary excellence that enlightens as it entertains.”
Benson, who holds degrees in history, noted that a candle from Flood’s memorial service last summer rests on his desk – a constant reminder of not only Flood’s rich life but also that his presence, even in death, still illuminates EKU Libraries and the lives of all the staff members fortunate enough to have crossed his path.