Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rest in peace, Massie...

I found out last night that my much beloved former advisor at my alma mater, Longwood University, died on June 11th.  He was 77 years old.

Dr. Stinson had been in poor health for some time.  In 2000, he'd had a stroke that caused spinal paralysis, so he was confined to a wheelchair for his last years.  The last time I saw him was during the fall of 1997, just after I had finished my stint in the Peace Corps.   I visited my college's career center in hopes of getting help finding a job.  While I was there, I stopped by the English department and he was in his office.  We had a chat and I went to his house with him, where I presented him with a copy of the Peace Corps cookbook I had written.

Dr. Stinson was the consummate southern gentleman.  I remember one day after my first advisor had retired freshman year, Dr. S stopped me in the hall and said, "Well, hello there Jenny.  I see you need a new advisor.  I think I'll take you on myself."  From then on, every semester I would visit Dr. S to talk about my next semester's classes.  I always took music classes for fun and he used to tease me that I should have majored in music.  Indeed, my grades in my English classes were so mediocre that I probably would have been better off.  Dr. S also used to try to get me to take a Shakespeare class, which I never did.

When it came time for me to finish school, I had two minors.  One was in speech and the other was in communications.  I could have gotten a third minor in journalism if I took one more class.  When I brought up that idea to Dr. Stinson, he said, in a wary voice "I think that would be 'gilding the lily'."  He was probably right.  I never forgot that comment, though.

After I graduated and went off to Armenia, I would send him emails.  One day, he commented that he thought I had a real gift for storytelling and was a good writer.  I always thought that was funny, since I had him twice for British literature classes and he'd never noticed my writing talent back then.  Or, at least he'd never commented on it.  I guess it makes a difference when you're writing about something you really care about.  Truth be told, I was a mediocre English major and had really only chosen it as a major because I wanted to be a writer.  I didn't care much about reading novels or analyzing literature.

When it came time for me to go to graduate school, Dr. Stinson was especially helpful.  He had also attended the University of South Carolina for graduate school; it was where he'd earned his Ph.D in English.  He thought I was also going for an advanced degree in English, but I was going to get degrees in social work and public health.  I remember writing to him about that during my first semester there.

Then the emails stopped, and I wondered if maybe I had written something offensive-- as I am known to do sometimes.  It wasn't until many years later that I learned about his stroke and confinement to a wheelchair.

Last night, my very good friend Donna let all of us on Facebook know that our beloved Massie had died.  I learned how many of us had really loved him and how much he had loved us back.  Another much loved professor, Facebook friends with Donna, left a comment letting us know how much he loved us.  She asked us to send her emails if we wanted to send our condolences to Dr. S's family.  I'll have to send her a note.  I want to pay my respects.

I feel so fortunate to have gone to a small school where all of my professors knew me and were interested in seeing that I got a good education.  I'm fortunate that I went to a school where someone like Massie was teaching.  He was an unforgettable mentor and he will be missed by many, including me.  May he rest in peace.   

2 comments:

  1. I'm at a pretty large school. Professors like your advisor are few and far between here.

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  2. He really was a delightful man. His funeral was today. I didn't go... The power has been out at my house for the past 24 hours. One of my friends went. I had sent condolences through another professor (who also remembered me after 19 years) and my friend said they were moved by my letter. That makes me emotional, but glad I took the time. He was a very special mentor.

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