To his wife and young daughters, Crister Garrett was an affectionate, attentive man who liked to cook, goof around and play American sports together, tell stories, share curious facts about nature, and feed his brilliant mind with heaps of publications. He put time with his family above everything else, and would rarely mention any of his accolades to them. He’d check in with his two daughters each morning before school, then again at dinner.
“With all his achievements, his daughters were still his biggest accomplishment,” his wife, Claudia Garrett, tells LeipGlo.
To others, he was Professor Crister Garrett, Director of American Studies at Uni Leipzig, an American with perfect German who indelibly shaped them as a lecturer or colleague. He was a highly prestigious figure in Leipzig, best known for his expertise on US-German relations. Through his many seminars and public appearances, Prof. Garrett served as an unofficial ambassador for cultural and political understanding between the two countries.
Prof. Garrett died of cancer on 6 March 2019, at age 56.
The news reverberated with deep sadness across the community he’d nurtured over the years. His dedication and work ethic were evident until his very last days. He finished out his teaching for the semester and, until two weeks before his death, sat at his desk at home reviewing scholarship applications from international students for the DAAD, as Claudia recalls.
It would be his last job, and a clear demonstration of just how much he’d cared for students’ success. Remembering how happy a scholarship in memory of his late father, also a professor, had made him, Prof. Garrett’s wife and daughters quickly found the path to honoring him beyond obituaries and flower wreaths. They would spread his legacy and generous spirit by helping the students of the future – starting with crowdfunding.
Claudia and daughters Kajsa, 16, and Sanna, 12, put up the profile on GoFundMe while the memory of Prof. Garrett was still quite fresh on people’s minds. They reached their target of 8,000 euros within the first 24 hours, which was “astonishing and really heart-warming to see,” says Kajsa. The older daughter herself came up with the idea of raising scholarship funds in this way, to make it easier for anyone to donate and spread the word:
“Anyone with a link can share. It guides you through and makes it accessible to those who may not feel capable of donating. Also students who cannot donate much won’t feel intimidated. The amount doesn’t matter. People help because they really cherished him, and that means a lot to us, especially because they leave a little comment.”
The goal, to start with, is to use the scholarship money for study exchanges between the US and Germany. Eventually, they’d like to spread it to other parts of the world.
Although they knew students held Prof. Garrett in very high regard, his family did not expect the outpouring of love and support they instantly received. They were amazed to see the amount of people he helped or molded who were now giving back, including colleagues and others not in academia.
“It’s really nice to see that people who studied under him 5-10 years ago now have a good job and the financial position to help,” Claudia notes, adding that folks from all walks of life have so far donated money to the scholarship campaign. Many people have also reached out showing affection and concern for the Garrett family.
Kajsa picked out some of the most touching comments from the GoFundMe page:
“Crister Garrett was the best professor I ever had. He taught us not what to think, but how to think. And his reflected, thoughtful voice will be missed.”
“Prof. Garrett was an amazing teacher and inspiration, and I often think of his advice when I am stuck in a situation. I wish I could give more and I hope this contribution helps.”
“I knew Crister first as a student, then as a colleague, and always as a mentor. He taught me so much about how to navigate academics and the real world, how to lead, and how to teach (and really reach) our students. I am heartbroken by his passing, but I promise to carry on his style of teaching and interacting with students to the best of my ability. I send my warmest thoughts to his family.”
The personal life of Prof. Garrett mirrored his work towards bridging gaps.
Both his daughters are perfectly bilingual and attend a public school where they learn multiple languages. A polyglot of Swedish-American background, Prof. Garrett imparted to them that “languages are the key to understanding the world,” says his wife.
Claudia Garrett is from Leipzig and met her husband in the late 90s, when he was on his first Fullbright as junior lecturer here. Their life has been very much bi-cultural, with Kajsa having been born in Madison, Wisconsin, and Sanna here in Leipzig. His untimely passing hit his tight-knit family quite hard, in both Germany and the US.
When asked what pops into mind when she thinks about her father, Sanna, the younger daughter, replied:
There are only positive things that come to mind when you think about him. He’s more than just a sentence. He was relaxed, open, he gave so much by just giving someone a smile and a hi. We had no secrets. (…) He was a genius at what he did. He was the best at what he did. And he still managed to be there for his family 24/7.
Now the community also has a chance to contribute to his legacy.