The man I prefer to be thanks his mentors while he can

Last year, a favorite professor of mine retired from Plattsburgh State University, and the university honors center was dedicated in his name. I couldn’t attend the ceremony honoring Dr. David “Doc” Mowry, but instead decided to send him a card congratulating him and thanking him for his unwavering support in my education.

He died earlier this week. I never got around to sending the card.

I wish I had done so, and thanked him for inviting me to interview for a scholarship in Plattsburgh, N.Y., a remote outpost of civilization that would become home for four years.

I wish I had done so, and told him how much I appreciated the fairness he showed when I asked for an extension on the philosophy midterm because I had been up all night defending the school newspaper against censorship. It turned into a conversation about what Socrates would do, and we came up with a fair compromise that balanced my civic duties to free speech with my responsibilities to my own academics.

I wish I had done so, and expressed gratitude for the guidance he gave when my coursework became too heavy and I needed to cut back somewhere. He wasn’t my official advisor, but my official advisor didn’t exactly know my name.

A face of support

I wish I had done so, and reminisced about how he had coached me when I gave the commencement address, and how when looking out into a sea of 5,000 faces, I first latched onto his hand signals telling me to slow down, and a minute later, his thumbs-up and beaming smile.

I wish I had done so, and he would have responded. Because that’s the kind of considerate man he was — but it may have taken him a while, because that’s the kind of teacher he was. The kind who always had alumni popping in for a visit, the kind who would have gotten flooded with cards and letters from former students thanking him for the ways he impacted them during their college years. My own card, however, was absent from that flood.

As a teacher myself, I hope that even a fraction of my students will remember me the way so many remember Doc. To make that happen, I’ll look to his example as someone who saw the individual first, and the student second; who always smiled when a student walked into his office; who cared more about growth than about grades.

And in the end, that example may be the most valuable thing he’s taught me. 

I wish I had thanked him for that, too.

But I never sent the card.

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