From: "M. T. Hollinger"
Subject: Derek's Memorial
Hi. I'm deeply saddened by the news of Derek's
passing; we were friends since high school (1982
or so). Although I'm drawing a mental blank, at
the moment, on appropriate profundities, my
mother (Ruth Robertson) had this to say:
Derek will live forever in my mind as the
sixteen-year-old who thought "Godel, Escher and
Bach" was fun reading on a sleepless morning.
From: Liz Hagen
Subject: Remembering Derek
I spent Christmas 1995 with Derek at his sister
Melanie's home in Columbia, MD.
He was a quiet man. We didn't talk much. But
late at night I heard the sounds of music in the
next room. Derek was playng his guitar to his
sister Rowena, before she fell asleep.
I'll remember his music, and his kindness.
From: "Raaven O'Quinn"
Subject: Memories of Derek
I have a lovely memory of the night of my 18th
birthday; I & friends Wendy & Persephone were
hanging out in one of our Crosby 2nd floor
rooms, when who should come strolling down the
hall, but 4 out of 5 Dentists! They came in, we
all chatted awhile & Derek learned it was my
birthday. He insisted that they serenade me for
such a milestone event! I ended my 18th
birthday in wonderful, loving company, with
bizarre music and lots of laughter. It's one I
won't soon (hopefully ever) forget!
From: Jim Muller
It always made me happy to be around Derek. He
had a great deal of wit: linguistic, goofy, and
otherwise. Derek was fundamentally gregarious.
He thought the things most worth doing were
group projects, so the social atmosphere around
him was dense. For a long time, he had a sort
of weekly afternoon party where people who
hadn't necessarily met before got together to
play music. This was Derek.
Shortly after I met Derek, I told Lambert about
some fun thing I had done with Derek and his
linguist house mates, and Lambert said "I like
those guys at the linguini co-op. They're cool
people". The turn of phrase has always stuck
with me, because it had part of the whimsy that
I remember Derek for many little things: playing
word games on his blackboard; staying up very
late on slight excuses; discussing the Sunday
paper; the lyrics of his songs; But best of all,
I remember Derek for the long, silly
constructions he, Boris, and others would work
out as a group (SNOW: the Salt No One Wants) and
the system of pauses and emphasis he used when
delivering his short witticisms. Like a zillion
others, I miss him.
Subject: D.A. Gross
To whom it may concern,
I just wanted to write to express my sympathy
for the loss of Derek. Even though I did not
know him at all and simply read about him in the
New York Times obituary, I was saddened because
he seems to have been an incredible human being.
Please accept my sincere sympathy and know that
my life would have been enriched had I known
Derek through his linguistic and musical
abilities. He sounds like a person I would have
loved to have been friends with.
From: Marley Mills
To: 'Rocker Reflector'
I know this is late in coming, but I just got
around to looking at Derek's home page. Derek
and I were frosh together way back in the long
ago; not close but we had a lot of friends in
common; and over the years as two of the few
folks we've spent some May evenings hanging out
It was one thing to hear Derek had died. I guess
I wasn't completely surprised, since he'd missed
Reunion this year and I almost figured he'd
_have_ to be deathly ill to do that. I was sad
to lose another person from our class of 84, sad
to think of Derek's voice not singing at Reunion
What absolutely blew me away, though, was
reading about his illness in his words on his
I work on the thoracic surgery unit at a local
hospital. I deal literally every day with people
who have the same disease, treatment, and side
effects, the same fears, plans, wishes as Derek
did. I often help these people chose how to
spend the last months, weeks, days of their
lives. I talk to them about how they want to die
and what they are afraid of and what they hope
for. I help their families deal with all of
these things, while they are also trying to
successfully navigate a medical bureaucracy that
puts the Pentagon to same in its complexity.
I love this part of my job. It is important
work, and I'm good at it. It is not, in general,
depressing, because if you do this long enough
you learn how to redefine success and hope in
ways that let you hold on to your heart and your
sanity at the same time.
But reading Derek's last update, written three
days before he died, had tears running like
rain. Not because it's sad, though it is. I'm
not sure what it is, to tell the truth, that set
me off, but I think it has something to do with
the difference between helping a person work
through their dying, and listening to a friend
tell you what their dying is like. Does this
make any sense?
Anyway, I hope that all of the people I help
along at the hospital have as many friends and
are as supported as Derek obviously was.
I wish I could tell him "thanks" for teaching me
a few lessons about the patients who let me into
Marley ('84, '92)
From: Kilissa & Cathy
Hi, Paul. I got the announcement of the memorial
service for Derek in September. Unfortuntately,
Cathy and I won't be able to be there in person,
but we will be thinking of Derek, and all those
of you we met along with Derek.
I was sincerely sorry to hear about his death. I
didn't know he had cancer until you told us a
few weeks ago. It's so sad. I just remember
having such a great time coming to Boston --
doing gigs with the Humounculi, chilling out and
eating ice cream somewhere in Cambridge. Derek
lent us this cool tape of "Madwomen in the
Attic", his then favorite listening
experience. Then (we were supposed to mail it
back) he called us to remind us to send
it---hey, if a tape is good you have to be VERY
careful about letting it slip through your
fingers. The weird thing is that we met Margot
Hennebach, a member of the now broken-up
"Madwomen" experience. She was on a bill with us
in the Catskills, and later she invited us to a
festival in New Jersey. When we met her--we
talked about DEREK! She was so happy to know her
tape was appreciated. And then only a few weeks
later you told us he had died!!!
Life is not fair.
I am also so humbly touched to see that he
mentioned the Jazzabels on his homepage. That is
SO SWEET. We were really hoping to be able to
come see you all again soon. I wish we could
have gotten to know Derek better. I wish peace
for all of you who were closer to him.
Kilissa McGoldrick, and Cathy Carfagna of the
Jazzabels 9/3/96, Buffalo NY
From: Janet Hitzeman
Subject: a derek story
I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to make it
to Derek's memorial; I'm getting married that
day. But I very much want to see the Derek
stories people come up with, and I'd like to
hear how the memorial goes, if you wouldn't mind
saying something about it on Derek's web page.
Here's my Derek story:
Derek and I had papers at the Chicago
Linguistics Society one year, and we drove there
together. I'm pretty sure it was Derek's first
conference presentation-- Remember the famous
"middles" paper that he was never quite happy
with? He was working on his solution up til the
last moment before giving the talk. (It was a
good talk, by the way, and he did a good job of
answering the questions.)
The woman who spoke before him didn't speak into
the microphone, and the acoustics in that
Chicago hall were terrible, so I pointed that
out to Derek and told him to be sure to speak
into the mike. But-- well, you know how tall
Derek was (I still want to say "is")-- the mike
wasn't adjustable for height, so he started out
leaning down to get close to the mike, but after
a while he'd forget and start standing up
straight, and then he'd remember and lean down
again, and during the whole talk he was loud for
a while and then way too soft and then loud,
then soft.... It was pretty funny. I never
told him about that. But that's the thing about
Derek: He was always doing something endearing.
From: Jennifer Arnold
Hi, I am a friend of Derek's from the LSA
institute, in 1991 - we played in a band there
together. In fact, the whole band began with
him and Spike getting together one day to play
guitars -- I went to listen, and ended up
playing along with my viola. Then Derek and his
housemates had a party and a bunch of people
brought instruments, and the band was born.
After that Derek was one of the people who
really organized the band and kept it going.
Anyway, I just wanted to write to say that I
will miss Derek, and that I'll remember him. I
haven't seen him since that summer, but I'd
always hoped that I would see him again, and I'm
sad to know that I won't be able to. He was a
great guitarrist, a clever songwriter, and a
There are bunch of songs that he wrote that I
really liked, -- one is "the world's shortest
blue's song" - the lyrics go "I woke up this
morning.... went back to bed." It's not too
impressive on paper, but it was pretty funny
when he did it. Another one is "The
Government-Binding Blues". I have a recording
of Derek singing it, and these are the lyrics
(the xxxx is where I couldn't quite make it out,
and don't remember what it said):
The Government-Binding Blues
Let me get past your surface structure, baby
let me scope out your logical form
let me check out your xxxx
see if you deviate from the norm
well I won't dominate you baby
if you won't govern me.
well, if you didn't like my features then
why did you parse my tree?
There was another song with good lyrics, that
went something like "Joanna, Joanna, you look
just like a banana...you sure a-peel to
me........ Joanna, Joanna, you sound just like a
pian-a...... but baby you sure are grand."
Also, PopTart: "Somebody doused my PopTart, put
some funny sprinkles on the top-part, and the
snack bar sure looks strange....". And Who are
You?: "Who are you, and how can I convince you
to bear my children?"
Anyway, the summer that we played in "The
Floating Tones" was one of the best summers I
ever had. I'll always remember Derek and miss
-- Jennifer Arnold
From: Sybil (via Bruce Holton)
Subject: Memories of Derek Gross
First, I'm not really Bruce Holton, I'm
his wife Sybil, using his e-mail. I knew Derek
when I was the graduate secretary for FLL&L at
the UR. I left at the same time he did, too.
One of the things I remember about Derek
was he had an amazing sweet tooth. I had a
candy dish on my desk, and once after
Hallowe'en, I brought in some Charms Blow Pops.
They sat untouched, for the most part, but Derek
came in, and in his typical low-key way, started
unwrapping and consuming one. I was so
astounded that anyone over the age of 12 would
actually eat one that I ended up giving him all
Derek was a very quiet person, but he
was always willing to host visiting potential
grad students, help clean up after receptions,
and just generally make himself helpful. He was
quiet, especially in crowds, but in one-to-one
conversation he was warm and funny. He and two
other graduate students made my newborn daughter
a great baby quilt, one that I used with my
second daughter, as well. He was an extremely
thoughtful (in all senses of the world) person,
and a doer (I'm sure someone else has mentioned
his highway campaign against television), not a
talker. It was a privilege to have known him.