Thursday, June 5, 2014

A tribute to a wonderfully kind and funny man...

This morning as I drove into work, I was contemplating what to write about today. I had a few ideas, but thought of saving those for 7 Quick Takes tomorrow. Then, in light of current events which I will talk about in a moment, I thought: what's the point of "saving" things for another time? The older I get, the more I realize how precious and fleeting life really is. Things simply don't always proceed the way you plan or expect. As I recall EWTN foundress Mother Angelica once saying: "Nothing lasts forever, Honey." On this earth that is, as difficult as that is to accept.

And so yesterday, I was working along at my computer, when suddenly I saw a new email notification come into my inbox. The subject read: "Death of Professor _______." I immediately gasped out loud, and with the thin walls over here, that means both of my office neighbors heard me and likely thought I had injured myself. I'll call the professor in question "Dr. B" because I'm weird about using last names on this blog, it's the paranoia in me. :)

I knew Dr. B. He taught philosophy here at the university at which I work, and has been here for over 50 years. He was also one of Mike's mentors here when Mike was obtaining his Ph.D. in philosophy just before we got married. Dr. B specialized in Kant, ethics, and the philosophy of religion, and was a devout Lutheran. In philosophy, whether you're a theist or an atheist is rather a big deal, and he felt strongly that all students should study religion from an objective perspective because of its importance to our history and way of thinking.

Besides philosophy, he taught a course called World Civilizations, and that is how I knew him. Every semester, he would ask me to come and teach a session on finding material for a research assignment to his 230 student class. Needless to say, I found this very intimidating. :0 (outcome of that original panic-stricken post over here for any interested parties). No other professor has ever wanted me to teach in their large lecture class like that, they would break it up into smaller segments. Not Dr. B. He liked things done a certain way, and he was sure I was up to the task when I inherited the library liaison responsibility to the World Civ. course.

He always provided me with his assignment and request for instruction in a timely manner. When I arrived at his classroom, he was *always* looking dapper and wearing a jacket and tie. He was supremely cordial and professional. He commanded respect by his presence, and I *never* called him by his first name even in an informal email. He expected his students to do research and write a coherent college-level paper, which not all professors here do anymore.

He had high expectations for his students, but was always kind and accommodating to answering questions. He had a reputation for having a stash of chocolate in his desk for if you were having a bad day when you came to see him, and if you were having a REALLY bad day, a flask of scotch. :0

I taught for him this past February (if you read that post, the followup is that a few days later, he sent me the nicest email saying: "My apologies for the omitted '0' on the note confirming your presentation, resulting in your room search Tuesday." I mean seriously, the man is a gem), and the last time I saw him was later in the spring semester, just walking through campus.

"Hello, Dr. B!"

"Good day to you." *tip of his hat*

There is not another faculty member on campus as gentlemanly and unique as he.

And so when I saw that email, I gasped out loud, and started reading the obituary that was contained therein. Then I started to cry. I never looked forward to those big classes because being in front of so many people really brings out my anxiety, but I always enjoyed working with Dr. B, and I will miss that so much. Mike took the news hard, too. He had always admired Dr. B, and couldn't wait to hear my amusing stories after I taught for him every semester. His death feels very sudden, although based on his obituary, I can tell that he was a lot older than we thought he was. He easily looked 10-20 years younger, but he must have been well into his 80's.

One final anecdote: for a two year spell, I was on the Faculty Senate here. *cue an agonizing musical selection in the background* PAINFUL. Long, tedious meetings, filled with academics who very much enjoy hearing themselves talk. The shining light was always Dr. B. He was a Parliamentarian for the Faculty Senate, and would intercede when needed for interpretations of the necessary bylaws. I can think of few things more horrifically boring than that, but Dr. B took his charge very seriously and with relish. He was always standing in the back of the room (he had a back problem that made it painful for him to sit for any length of time) waiting patiently with his laptop propped onto a table for when his services were needed.

One day a particularly gruesome meeting was underway. The usual chair was absent, and the discussion was quickly deteriorating into chaotic ego enhancing nuances. Some of the faculty were arguing about some university policy, and several stated that they felt the policy should be amended to reflect their thoughts on the matter (naturally). Several of them termed this "a friendly amendment." The person running the meeting finally got a word in edgewise (no easy feat with that group):

"Let's ask our Parliamentarian for the procedure on adding an amendment to the policy."

*Dr. B straightens and calmly walks to the center of the room, sans laptop*

"Well, I am glad that you asked. First of all, there is *no such thing* as a FRIENDLY AMENDMENT. Bylaw section 85, subsection (a)(4) clearly states that........ Furthermore..."

All off the top of his head. He had been reading up while they were all arguing. :0 I had to physically restrain my face not to burst out laughing. The "friendly amendment" crowd was shut down summarily and without further ado. That was, without a doubt, the highlight moment of my two years in the Faculty Senate. He was just totally without ego or guile. A breath of fresh air.

I will miss him very much. Let's all wing up a prayer for the repose of his soul, and for the comfort of his family today. As ever, your prayers are much appreciated. :)

1 comment:

  1. He sounds marvelous & like just the sort of professor we need more of at universities. He & his family & you all are in my prayers. <3


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