Remembering Trude

December 22, 2023

By David Brownell and Dickens Universe Community 

John Jordan, Trude Hoffacker, and Tricia Lootens

I first became aware of Trude Hoffacker at my first Dickens Universe in 2007. John Jordan went through his annual ritual of asking everyone who’d attended more than one Universe to stand up. Then anyone who’d attended fewer than five Universes had to sit down; then those who’d attended fewer than ten; and so on until the last one standing was Trude, who’d attended all of them. Last summer’s Universe was the only one she missed: she died a few weeks before we met to discuss A Tale of Two Cities.

Over the years, I got to know Trude and looked forward to seeing her every summer. Then I had the pleasure of serving on the Board of the Friends of the Dickens Project with her. As a Board member, she didn’t talk unless she had something to say; then when she spoke, she had a gift for recognizing the key point of a proposal and addressing it concisely and tellingly, assessing whether it fit with the personality of the Universe. She safeguarded the soul of the event.

Having the Friends put out this quarterly newsletter online was her idea, and she was a valued contributor to it. It seems the appropriate place to commemorate her. I’ve asked some people to contribute memories of Trude. And here are what some of those people had to say.

Peggy Waters says, “When I couldn’t decide what discussion group to attend, I looked to see where Trude would be: I knew I could rely on her to be worth listening to.”

Marguerite Romanello says, “Trude was an extraordinary person, and we were suite-mates many times over the years. We shared so many terrific conversations and funny moments it is hard for me to single out one. After much thought, this incident seems to encapsulate Trude.

[Another suite-mate] told me when I awoke that she had a panic attack during the night but didn't want to disturb me. I dressed quickly and scurried to find Trude who was having her breakfast. Trude immediately came to sit with [her] while I found people to help with getting appropriate medical attention through UCSC. Then, Trude helped get [her] an earlier flight home and getting all that arranged. Trude just calmly took charge and helped. This is just who she was. She put others’ needs first, and her calm demeanor was just what was needed.”

Ryan Fong wrote, “After I gave my plenary lecture on Dombey and Son, which was my first as a faculty member, Trude came up to me in the dining hall and said, "Well done." That was the moment I knew it had been a success, and it is some of the most treasured feedback I have ever received for my scholarly work. She will be deeply missed.”

John Bowen and Trude Hoffacker
John Bowen and Trude

Joanna Rottke says, “I think Trude and I really bonded over dogs, more specifically her beloved Bronte and my Emily. She was always happy to see Emily at the Universe (on campus against UCSC policy) and brought her many gifts over the years. When Em passed, Trude felt it, because she knew what it meant to suffer a loss like that. When we did a special fundraiser for our library, folks who gave at a certain level could have a plaque attached to one of our bookcases. These were removed and framed when we moved the library to its current location, but you can still see Trude's atop one of the cases, in honor of her much-loved Bronte.”

When Trude died, Rae Greiner wrote, “I too am stunned and bereft. Trude was such an absolute gem. She’s the heart of the Universe, which cannot be the same without her.”

John Glavin wrote, “A way of being in the world, and a way of reading, may end with Trude, and it is deeply sad to mark the passing of both.”

Catherine Robson wrote, “In common with you all, I have many wonderful memories of conversations with Trude, and was lucky enough to have had her in my morning context class last summer. She was characteristically splendid in there — really ready to get stuck into Iola Leroy; unfailingly generous to those new recruits to the Universe who were still finding their feet.  I am so sorry that I won’t be seeing her at the end of the month, but a life well-lived, I think.” 

Carol MacKay also commented on Trude’s contributions in discussion groups. “Trude certainly made an impact on all of us—a true model of generosity and love of learning.  I always looked forward to hearing from the co-teachers of her small discussion group, who invariably appreciated how she taught her fellow participants how to be the best students for one another.”

Priti Joshi wrote, “Like others, I am so sad to hear about Trude’s passing. She was a pillar of our community, always smiling, smart as any, funny; she always intuited the temperature of the room and when someone needed her guidance or assistance (sometimes out of a pickle of our own making). I will miss Trude’s gentle smile and voice.”

And going back to the beginning, Bob Newsom wrote, “To make a long story short, I gave the first morning lecture at the first Universe. Immediately following, there was an uprising of sorts because many attendees were offended by having a talk read to them instead of just talked with them. I believe John and Murray and Ed put the rebellion down by explaining we lecturers had actually worked hard to prepare and hoped the audience would also work hard to listen as we read — carefully. The bosses spared me knowledge of the rebellion (I was a recently hired assistant professor). I did feel some coolness towards me immediately afterwards, but Trude must have taken pity on me, because I remember she was noticeably very warm then and ever afterwards. She and I did much later reminisce and laugh about that first Universe. She was as kind to me and all the academics and grad students as to the non-specialists (many of whom of course knew as much about Dickens as did the scholars). Gentle, generous, loyal, and true. And now always to be lovingly remembered.”

John Jordan wrote, “I've said this publicly on several occasions, but it bears repeating, I think. In addition to holding the record for being the longest consecutive participant in the Dickens Universe (42 years, beginning in 1981), Trude was one of the original Board members of the Friends of the Dickens Project. She served regularly on the Friends' hospitality committee—was often, in fact, its only member. She loved meeting new people and welcoming them to the Universe. For visiting speakers, especially ones from overseas, she prepared small arrival packets containing snacks, a water bottle, and pre-stamped postcards for sending back home to friends and family. She loved students and always made a point to seek them out and listen to their ideas. Her thoughtfulness and generosity greatly enriched the life of the Dickens Universe. We remember her fondly and celebrate her spirit.”

Trude was a teacher most of her life. When I listened to her talk about her students, it was very clear that she cared about them and that she was an exceptional teacher—one of those whom students remember fondly and feel fortunate to have known. “Gladly would she learn, and gladly teach.”