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A Farewell to Ralph Johnson

Bill Lipe


photo of Ralph Ralph, in honor of your outstanding contributions to SAA and to American archaeology, we have decided to bestow upon you the title of "honorary archaeologist" (abbreviated "ha!"). We've put a few things together to get you started. First, an official SAA fanny pack, equipped with a compass. Inside is an SAA baseball hat, and Indian Country map, an official SAA trowel, and a genuine Swiss Army knife; one with a corkscrew and bottle opener, to be sure. There is also a Payday candy bar for the munchies during those long mornings in the field. Since we know that you're preadapted to supervise people, you obviously need an excavation crew that you can always keep with you. For this purpose, we have supplied four badgers actually, four Zuni fetishes of badgers who will make up your symbolic crew of accomplished excavators. Like many a crew, you see a matched pair plus one that is different but part of the tradition, and finally a sort of postmodern one, just to keep you on your toes. Since we know that you'll be abandoning your business-like attire for more casual dress, we've gotten you a really cool bola tie--an attractive "sterling" silver scorpion inlaid with pieces of bright blue plastic turquoise. When we stop by to see you in Santa Fe, we'll expect you to be wearing it always.

Seriously now, you have done a tremendous job of serving and building SAA. The society has thrived during your term as executive director. Many of us who have worked more closely with you see your contributions not just from an institutional standpoint, but from a personal one. You have not only applied your talents, boundless energy, and great enthusiasm to the job, you have helped make service to SAA both personally enjoyable and productive. More than 50 archaeologists who have had the pleasure of working with you have contributed to two gifts that we hope you will enjoy and that can serve as reminders of your tenure with SAA.

First is a Soleri wind bell. This one-of-a-kind sand-cast bronze bell was individually designed and signed by Italian architect Paulo Soleri and is sold to support the realization of his vision for urban planning, in the form of a prototype that is under construction in the Arizona desert. The operative metaphors here are "one-of-a-kind" and "vision." Like many of the artifacts that we study, this bell is both long-lasting--and a unique--work of art. One of your long-lasting contributions to SAA has been guiding the society through the creation and toward the realization of a vision of the national and international roles of archaeology and the SAA.

Second, we present to you a Tohono O'odam (Papago) winnowing basket from southern Arizona, decorated with a classic Tohono O'odam design. After an extended but futile search for an appropriate basket, a Pima basket weaver guided us to an out-of-the-way trading post near Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Finding this classic basket was a fortunate accident of time and place. The SAA, after an earlier, ill-fated search for an executive director, was incredibly fortunate to have found Ralph to direct us through this critical period in SAA's history. The final metaphor we'd like to exploit is one of weaving. Ralph is a weaver of sorts, skillfully combining the raw materials available to him, in this case not Devil's claw, yucca, and beargrass, but the diverse members and staff of the SAA, to achieve much more than we imagined we could.

Thank you, Ralph. We'll miss you, but you leave a valuable legacy.

Bill Lipe


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