Shona Kelly Wray
Faculty Families of 14th Century Bologna
Shona Kelly Wray died on 6 May 2012 while here in Florence as an I Tatti Fellow. Shona was a Professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City in the History Department, remembered there as a brilliant scholar-teacher and as beloved by her colleagues and students alike. All of us at I Tatti deeply mourn Shona’s loss but we treasure our memories of her as a vibrant and generous member of our community, and as an accomplished and inspiring scholar.
Shona’s research focused on the social history of Italy in the 13th and 14th centuries, in particular on community responses to the Black Death, notarial culture and testaments, peace settlements and conflict resolution, women's property issues, and faculty families in Bologna. University colleagues describe Shona as ‘one of the brightest lights of her generation.’ Shona obtained her BA from the University of California at Davis, and her MA and doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder. A number of prestigious awards allowed her to spend much time in Italy, a place she loved. In 1986-1987 Shona was a Fulbright student at the University of Bologna, in 2002-2003 she was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome, and this year she was a Fellow here at Villa I Tatti. She had numerous publications to her credit, and her book Communities and Crisis: Bologna during the Black Death will long remain a model of archival scholarship. While at I Tatti Shona was conducting research on the social history of the households of the professors of the University of Bologna, with a particular focus on the activities and property holdings of the women, children, and servants in those households.
Shona leaves behind her husband Randy and two children, Shane and Alina, her parents, Jim and Celia, her sister Maggi, and many friends in both Italy and North America. Maggi has set up a memorial site online.
Some memories of Shona from her colleagues and friends at I Tatti
‘We all loved spending time with Shona at I Tatti. She was happy, witty, and sensible; she was generous, friendly, and funny. In Italian you sum up the combination of these traits with one word: "solare", sunny - and that's exactly how you felt about her. She was clearly very happy about life in Florence, enthusiastic about her research and always eager to hear about colleagues' work, ready to discuss theoretical takes and archival findings. I felt very profoundly that she was the ideal colleague.’
‘We remember her as a very kind presence in the I Tatti community, with discretion and intelligence. It is very sad that fate took her so soon from this life, but her contribution to scholarship and her other activities will keep her memory alive. Our warm thoughts are with her beloved ones.’
‘It was pretty clear to me from the start that Shona and I were going to be friends. She had this way of making instantly clear that she wanted to spend more time with you. I was very lucky to spend lots of time with her here in Florence, where we met thanks to the Villa I Tatti. I asked her, 'Did Bologna medieval professors have pictures in their houses?' Shona kept on answering that question over the past few months, every time she found some evidence, she would hurry back to me to tell me and pointed at completely unreadable (to most eyes) documents that proved or not her point.’
‘I treasure all the memories I have of her but there is one I feel most compelled to celebrate. During our April field trip, I remember her insistence upon showing us Bettina d’Andrea’s grave at Sant’ Antonio di Padova, and how Shona looked at me as she proposed the visit, asking with her eyes for my complicity and reassurance. Of course, we went there. How to resist her? After seeing all those magnificent works of art, I believe what Shona was passionately doing at an obscure woman’s grave was pointing us to the importance of embracing supposedly marginal, inexplicable traces that sculpt history and human life. And I think this is at the heart of my sorrow, for the way her death has affected me has not to do with the amount of time I spent with her nor with the obvious affinities we had but with something she gave me that is more precious, perhaps because it lacks explanation and measure.’
Shona was my great friend, my work partner, and a source of support and love to my family, too. We'd been spending the year in Florence, at the Villa I Tatti, working on projects that intersected in several ways. Over the years of our friendship, we talked about the possibility of coming here, but neither of us ever thought we'd actually manage it, let alone in the same year.
‘From the start at I Tatti Shona was affectionate and welcoming. In all of our conversations I admired the energy and warmth that she radiated. I know that the generous warmth she offered from our first to our last encounter will always remain with me.’
‘During her time here Shona showed herself to possess another remarkable set of qualities beyond the scholarly – qualities that are as important in an I Tatti Fellow as the ability to bring to completion any academic project. Bernard Berenson wanted this to be a place of peace and tranquility, a place where scholars could exchange ideas and share the excitement of research and intellectual discovery. This is what Shona showed herself ready to do every day here. At the lunch table we could hear how she revelled in connections made with all scholars from both her own and other disciplines. But there was something else we heard from her at the table: her occasional, lovely bursts of laughter that made all conversations with her, scholarly and not, a pleasure for everyone. She was in every way a wonderful I Tatti Fellow.’