Gary Fink, who chaired the Department of History from 1984-1991, died on August 7, 2008. His contributions to the Department, Georgia State University and the history profession were immense.
Born in 1936, Gary grew up on a farm in eastern Montana. After high school he entered the U.S. Army where he had his intellectual conversion experience hiding in a boiler room at Fort Whittier, Alaska while trying to escape KP duty. He overheard a conversation about American literature between two other, college-educated, soldiers, and decided that sounded interesting. After leaving the service, Gary attended the University of Montana, taught history and coached for a while in Oregon, then went on to receive his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri. He taught at Mankato State University before coming to Georgia State in 1970 where he stayed until his retirement in 1998.
Though originally trained as a political historian, Gary developed a national reputation as a labor historian, eventually authoring or editing nine books in the field, along with two works on Jimmy Carter. He was a pioneer in the field of southern labor history. Along with Merl Reed of th Department of History, he co-founded the Southern Labor Archives of Special Collections, which grew into one of the nation’s preeminent labor history repositories. (He was also co-founder of the Georgia Government Documentation Project, a joint effort of History and Special Collections.) In addition, he helped organize the Southern Labor Studies Association whose biennial conferences from 1976 through 2003, almost all held at Georgia State, featured both renowned historians and younger scholars ready to make their mark, and the Seminar for the Comparative History of Labor, Industry and Technology (SCHLITS).
In others ways, too, Gary played an active role within the profession. He worked closely with the Carter Presidential Library, conducting seminars and conferences there. He was a leader within the Georgia Association of Historians, serving as president in the 1980s. He was honored by the GAH in the spring of 2008, where he gave his last public presentation, a warm, humorous, insightful reflection on his career as a historian. In recognition of his contributions, in 1998 he was presented with a Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities.