A colleague of mine died last week. It was sudden – completely unexpected. He was Mr. Healthy – walking to work and home every day, healthy eater, slender – yet still died of a massive heart attack without warning of any kind at age 66.
Doug and I started at Inver Hills the same year – 1989. We’ve been colleagues for 20 years. Our offices were in different buildings so we didn’t see each other on a daily basis. But we were friendly, talking with each other at duty days, sharing the common greetings of passing between classes on the mall, sharing an in-depth (and, I must admit, usually confusing) conversation at a conference (Doug taught Philosophy), sharing a laugh and a snarky comment or two about administratively required ‘work’.
Working with really smart people can be pretty intimidating. After all, they’re smart. They all have at least a Master’s degree, and most have more – advanced course work, an advanced degree. Beyond their degrees, though, they’re smart. Really smart. In some cases, scary smart. The smart, most of the time, isn’t really about their book learning or their degree. It’s an inherent thing – a combination of curiosity, wonder, determination, analysis and creativity. It’s the thing that drove them to pursue the field they did, and to desire to share their discoveries with others. It’s the thing that makes them fun to work with.
Some people perhaps have a perception of college teachers that’s pretty outdated – that they are these intellectual eggheads, who live in a fog in their ivory towers with no connection to “the real world” and no idea how to relate to the world that “real people” have to live and work in. Maybe that’s true – somewhere. But it’s not true about the colleagues I’ve had. Of course there’s always an exception or two, and maybe there are a lot of exceptions as people are people wherever we go. But the colleagues I’ve had in the places I’ve taught – those who are colleagues in the real sense of the word – have been people who have taught me to be better, challenged me to re-think a situation or an approach, helped me to see beyond the immediate and grasp the long-term, helped me to focus on the things that are really relevant and significant. They’re the ones that have helped to make ‘the job’ an opportunity for something beyond the ordinary. And, they’ve helped me keep my sanity!
So hats off to my colleagues. And hats off to Doug – philosopher, teacher, colleague.
14 hours ago