I really debated with myself wheter to post this or not. I typed it out to get it down and out of my brain but then I wasn’t sure I wanted to share since you didn’t know the guy so you don’t care but…in the end…he was worthy of some memory time, so here are some of my memories of a long ago friend:
I just found out today that one of my former history teachers has passed away. I hate that phrase, “passed away” but the alternative seems disrespectful and despite what may appear, I have never had anything but respect for Dr. Griffith.
At my alma mater, all freshmen were required to take the “freshman program.” There may have been a more formal name for it, I can’t remember, but it was a required set of classes and something called “Master Learner” which was basically a babysitting and mentoring class. One prof with maybe 15 students to keep on track. Make sure they were doing their work, understanding things, teaching them how to study, how to deal with college life and how to highlight texts (no kidding, that was part of the class, you’d be amazed at how helpful it was). My Master Learner was Dr. Griffith and I was part of his “honors” class. Go figure.
I immediately took to Dr. Griffith. I can remember that on one of the first days of class he finished by asking “Any questions?” and one student (not me) said “Yeah, can we call you Bruce?” He looked at the student and said ” …No.” I raised my hand. “Can we call you Griff?” He paused and blinked at me for a minute. And Dr. Griffith was the kind of guy who just looked like a nerdy history professor, rumpled, messy hair, general air of bewilderment, the kind of guy who said volumes with just one blink. “Griff? Yeah, ok. You can call me that.”
And so he was Griff, for my next four years. I don’t think I ever once called him “Doctor” or “Professor” after that. And despite not being a history major, he was always one of my favorite teachers. Before a student declared a major and received an advisor in that department, their Master Learner served as a temporary councilor. I would drop by his office and sit in a chair across from his desk to check on certain classes and while he answered endless phone calls, I would marvel at the bookshelves lining his walls. They were packed. Books crammed every which way and the whole shebang looking like it would topple at the slightly provocation. Had the area been earthquake prone, I would have feared for his life. And yet, when he wanted to show you some particular reference, he could pull a book from the bottom of the pile without anything else even wobbling.
I should have known I was in his good graces by his acceptance of my nickname. And he was always in mine. It started as a joke, me leaving him little gifts on his desk before class. One day as I walked past him on my way to my desk, I placed a particularly red and shiny apple in front of him. He laughed and never being one to pass up an easy laugh, I continued and it became something of a tradition, I would bring him a flower or more apples. And lest you mistake fun for a crush, that’s not what it was. It was fondness and friendship, which was proven equivocal when I introduced Griff to my parents at my graduation. He actually teared up and told them that he would miss me. (Dude, no teacher has ever claimed that they would miss me before. Most of them were shoving me out the door before I even graduated!) And sadly, I never saw him again.
Look, I am not a nostalgic person. I don’t visit my alma maters and I rarely stop by the college homepage for updates. I only happened upon Griff’s obituary when searching for something else. And while I am sad that other people won’t get to know Griff, I am very happy that I did know him.
So, I guess I could have made this eulogy a bit shorter. One story pretty much sums up our relationship as teacher and student and friends. One day I was standing on the landing in the main campus building, talking to a professor with whom I did not get along particularly well. I have no idea what we were discussing but somehow we needed the opinions of several other professors. We had flagged a few down but really wanted Dr, Griffith’s opinion and I saw him at the end of the hall. The professor that I didn’t particularly like called to him, “Dr. Griffith! Dr. Griffith,” but Dr. Griffith didn’t respond. A second prof. joined in, “Oh Dr. Griffith…yoooo-hoooo!’ (ok, well, maybe not like that but you get the picture). Bah. No response. “I can get his attention,” I said, “Yo Griff!” I called, softer than they had.
The unliked prof. gasped and chided me. How rude I was to talk to my professors that way! Good heavens! How dare I? Dr. Griffith had earned that title and I damn well better use it! And the like.
Griff turned around and dashed down the hall. “Hey, Ren. What’s up?”
The unliked professor looked at him, baffled. “I was calling you to ask your opinion on something, Dr. Griffith. But I am sorry Ren was so rude to you.”
“Oh”, he said, “She’s not rude at all. SHE’S allowed to call me that.” And he gave me a hug and carried on his way. I’m not sure we even got to ask him our question.
He was a good guy. I wish him well in any future endeavors.