Yale University

In Memoriam

George Hamley Odell

George Odell
1964 graduation

Obituary, Tulsa University anthropology professor, dies at 69

Tulsa World
October 14, 2011

A rifle butt, an ax head, a few arrow points and glass beads, and some trading utensils ― not much to go on. But to George Odell they told a story.

Or the beginnings of one, at least. He needed more time to discover what all they would reveal.

The University of Tulsa anthropology professor and his team unearthed the items at a site near Jenks, where they had been called for an archaeological study for a planned manufacturing plant.

After spotting pottery flakes on some gopher mounds, Odell had begun to dig. That's when the artifacts emerged. Intrigued, he pushed for and received two more months at the site.

Eventually, he was able to determine that the location had been the scene 300 years earlier of one of the first encounters between eastern Plains Indians and Europeans.

Furthermore, evidence showed that a substantial prehistoric American Indian village had once occupied the site.

It was a historically significant find, shedding light not only on the history of the Tulsa area but on a lesser-known period of the region generally.

As for Odell himself, the project was surprising and gratifying, and he later wrote a book about it.

A 26-year member of TU's anthropology department and a past recipient of the Society of Professional Archaeologists' Excellence in Research Award, George Hamley Odell died Oct. 14. He was 69.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at All Soul's Unitarian Church under the direction of Stanleys Funeral Service.

A veteran of field research projects all over the world, Odell spent two years excavating Stone Age sites in the Netherlands and also led excavations and surveys in South Africa, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, France and sites around the U.S.

One of his specialties was lithic analysis, the study of stone tools used by ancient humans, and he won awards for his contributions to the field.

Professor Michael Whalen, TU's anthropology department chairman, said Odell also was innovative.

For the Jenks project, "he came up with a unique and successful strategy for testing the site ― he used a Ditch Witch trenching machine, the first time I'm aware of anyone doing that."

Whalen, who hired Odell and was a good friend, said the professor gave TU everything it wanted and more, helping develop a local archaeology program with close ties to state and national professional societies.

Odell was the same in the classroom and out, he added ― "cheerful, optimistic and hardworking, and a deeply moral man who always tried to do the right thing."

This was to be Odell's last year at TU; he planned to retire in the spring, Whalen said.

Odell received his doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University in 1977. He held bachelor's and master's degrees from Yale University.

He joined TU's anthropology department in 1984.

He previously taught high school, including in Lebanon and Switzerland, and college at the University of British Columbia and Brown University in Providence, R.I.

His survivors include his wife, Frieda Odell.

Remembrances by Yale Classmates of George Odell

Toby Hubbard and Tony Lee provided the following two remembrances, which are followed by classmates' remembrances excerpted from the online funeral-home guestbook.

Toby Hubbard

I roomed and played rugby with our classmate George for three years during our late 20's, while both of us were first teaching in Winchester MA and later going to grad school at Harvard. As in his Yale rugby days, his playing style for Boston RFC was a blend of tenacity and quiet leadership. He enjoyed his post-game brew then, and I was glad to hear he was an aficionado of fine ale in Tulsa as well. George easily followed 11 of the 12 Scout virtues, the exception being "obedient" — he always marched to his own perceptive drummer. His unexpected passing touched a very personal chord for me, as I'm sure it did for many others.

Tony Lee

George Hamley Odell was one of my best friends at Yale and in subsequent years. We were in Beta Theta Pi, St. Elmo Society and played rugby together. I remember a conversation in our senior year with George, Chris Getman and Roger Weil when George revealed his disdain for his middle name, Hamley. In a flash the three of us picked up connections. George was from Minnesota, the home of Hamms beer and the land of sky blue waters. George had blue eyes and loved beer, and from that moment on, he was affectionately known as "Hams" or "Hamley" to us.

After graduation in June 1964, Hams and I hitchhiked to Virginia Beach and worked as cabana boys at a beach club with many laughs, bottles of Old Bohemian beer and touch football on the beach. In the fall, I entered Naval Officer Candidate School and Hams started teaching. I finished active duty in January 1968, walked off the ship in Gibraltar and caught up with Hams who was teaching at an international school in Zugerberg, Switzerland and riding his motorcycle "Gertie." We skied in Andermatt, Switzerland and later in St. Anton, Austria, and celebrated Fasching in Munich.

He was an usher at Margie's and my wedding in Weston, Mass in January 1970. At the time,  he was living in Malden with Toby Hubbard, teaching at Winchester High School and playing rugby with the Boston Rugby Club. The wedding photographer got a wonderful picture of him after the garter landed in his champagne glass.

I lost touch with Hams when I was in California from 1969 to 1984. During that time he got a PhD in anthropology at Harvard, met Frieda on a dig, married her and settled in Tulsa, OK, teaching at Tulsa University. While we saw each other briefly at reunions, we really reconnected at our mini reunion in Santa Fe in September 2002. It was the first time Frieda, Margie, Hams and I had been together, and we hit it off well.

In 2009 Hams flew to Boston and we drove him to our 45th college reunion in New Haven. He arrived in Boston on Wednesday and I arranged a mountain biking ride for him that evening. He'd never been on a mountain bike but he was a great sport despite landing in a patch of briars and poison ivy. We laughed it off, as we did most things, at the watering hole after.

Our personalities blended well together. We had the same political and social views, the same interests and compatible energy levels. I knew him for almost 50 years and I can remember only one heated moment with him. We were driving back to New Haven from Ft. Lauderdale in the 1964 spring break after a rugby tournament in Nassau. Both of us were hung over, tired and wanted to get back to my home in New Jersey. I fell asleep in the back seat around Richmond and woke later as the car was lurching around hitting potholes. Instead of following the signs to NY & NJ, he decided to drive through some of the Civil War battlefields. I wanted to go home and he was off on a fantasy tour of grey coats fighting blue coats. Jeez, no wonder he became an anthropologist.

I loved Hams for his depth of character, wonderful insights, quick wit and devil-may-care attitude. Our relationship had depth and meaning too as we shared our struggles and joys. He was a fun, loyal and good friend.  We had talked about camping and hiking together in the national parks after retirement. I will truly miss him.

John O'Brien

I knew George from Yale and St. Elmo. He was one of those really good guys that I was fortunate to know in my life.

Ward Wickwire

I first knew George as a freshman at Yale and later as a member of St. Elmo, a senior society. I always respected his friendship and willingness to explore new endeavors and adventures. I have a lasting admiration for his mid-life career switch from teaching to archeology.

George's passing renews my commitment to maintain contact with friends at every opportunity. I will miss George at our college gatherings. My condolences to his family.

Mike Mazer

I remember George well from college. A warm guy, who could always make you feel valuable. And he had a good laugh. Saw George several times after college and always enjoyed his company. He'll be missed.

Joe Wishcamper

George and I were friends at Yale and afterward in Cambridge. Although in recent years, we saw each other only every 5 years at reunions, I feel a deep sense of loss. George had a gentle and warm disposition and always had something interesting going on his his professional life. I send along my condolences.

Chris Getman

So sorry to learn about Hams. He was a lot of fun, a tough football player who had a great sense of humor. I was privileged to have known him at St. Elmo's, as a classmate and subsequently. It was always fun being around him.

John Hanold

Though I grew up only miles from George I don't think I met him until our intense final year at Yale. It is comforting to read what students and colleagues have said for it shows the traits he showed us then carried throughout his life. No pretensions, tenacious intellectual curiosity, and a love of life and his fellow travelers that brightened our way. He was blessed with a wonderful companion in Frieda, and Pam and I send our thoughts to her.

Remembrances by Students of George Odell

The following remembrances by George's students were excerpted from the online funeral-home guestbook.

John Bogatko

George's instruction, advice, the example he set, and the funny things he said and did still echo in my head — truly a world class scholar, teacher, human being, and all-around bon vivant never to be forgotten.

Nora Franco

I´m really sad about the news. I knew George as a professor. He opened a lithic world to me with his summer lithic courses. He introduced me to lots of bibliography I didn´t know and which I couldn´t access from my country (Argentina). I really enjoyed his lectures and his incredible sense of humour. He was always so open and so helpful ... A really good person, one of those difficult to find. My thoughts are with him and Frieda. I´ll miss him.

Ashton Spatz

I was greatly saddened to hear that Dr. Odell passed away. He was a wonderful, thought-provoking, and insightful professor who was challenging, engaging, and always happy to help his students — even open his home up to them for drinks and discussion. I only wish that I had more of an opportunity to work with him and to have known him even better. The world has lost a wonderful person, teacher, and archaeologist. You will truly be missed Dr. George Odell.

Sean Bergin

George was a great teacher who never ceased to challenge his students. He always seemed ready to help and managed to make the complex seem simple. I never knew him well on a personal level, but I always admired him and benefited greatly from his help and classes. Thanks for everything Dr. Odell.

Elyse Combs

I will never forget all of the help and guidance Dr. Odell gave me. One of the things I loved about him was that he always expected excellence, yet he never hesitated to help a student who asked for it. That was something I always respected and admired him for. He was a great mentor, teacher, and fun person to be around.

One time in class he made a joke that went: "Love is fleeting, but stone tools are forever." It was so funny, we all laughed! But unfortunately, Dr. Odell, I must disagree with you on the 'love is fleeting' part, for it is clear that the love your students have for you will always be steadfast. I will miss you greatly.

Elizabeth Mills

I was truly shocked to learn of Dr. Odell's death, and I find that I'm still having difficulty coming to terms with it. Although I only took a few of his classes at TU, I still cherish every one of them. In each of his classes, I distinctly recall Dr. Odell pushing me to work harder, teaching me to be a better writer, and always making me laugh. I never truly thanked him for that, and now I sincerely wish that I had.

I'll always remember Dr. Odell's unique combination of profound erudition and quick wit. In one sentence, he would elucidate the finer points of lithic reduction, and in the next, crack a silly joke. Then he would laugh at his own joke, with a hearty, sincere chuckle that was absolutely infectious. I will miss that.

Dr. Odell was a wonderful professor, mentor, and friend, and he will be missed by so many. It was an incredible privilege to have known him and to have learned from him.

Elizabeth Peterson

Thank you, Dr. Odell. You were a great mentor and I can't say how much I appreciate all that you have done for me. I will miss you, so very much. And thank you for being giving of your time and self to all of us students. Thank you.

Amber Lee

Dr. Odell was one of the hardest professors I ever had and I can't thank him enough for that. He always knew when I could do better and he pushed me until I achieved my best, with the help of a few brutal but true notes on my papers. But he was more than a professor to many of us — to some a drinking partner, others a mischievous, sarcastic prankster, but a mentor to us all, even if we preferred historical archaeology. I am so shocked by the news because he was forever young. He may have been old in years but he was young in spirit and wit. I am very sad and Frieda you are in my thoughts and prayers.

Jessie Starks

It is very difficult to try and sum up the impact Dr. Odell has had on my life, mostly because I am just now truly getting to see it. His guidance and knowledge as a professor are invaluable. Even after graduating, I am still introduced as "One of Odell's Students." It is an honor that I try to live up to in every way I can. But Dr. Odell did not just impact my professional and academic life; he also was an important figure in my personal life. After losing my dad, he really went above and beyond to reach out to me and help anyway he could.

I will forever cherish the laughs we shared over several pints, the smart-aleck remarks left on my papers, and the compassion he gave when I needed it most. One of my favorite memories was when Dr. Odell introduced me to a fellow archaeologist. After several minutes of discussion she said, "Wait, you're an undergrad?!" When I nodded and looked at Odell he was beaming. Knowing I was able to make him proud will always be considered by me to be one of my greatest accomplishments.

Mary Kay DeSelms

I was devastated to hear about Dr. Odell. Without his support, I would have never dreamed of going back to school to pursue my dream. I will never forget walking up the stairs to meet him. I was so nervous, but when I entered his office, he made me feel welcome. I will truly miss him — he has made a profound difference in so many lives.

Kate Olsen

Professor Odell, you were one of my favorite professors at TU. Your enjoyment for your work and willingness to help me as a student is something I will never forget. I am truly blessed to have had you as a teacher and a mentor in the anthropological field. Rest in peace.