Monday, July 07, 2008

RIP Dr Eliot

In senior year at UPEI, Vic famously cajoled me into taking Latin 101. He bailed syntactic water for a semester while I quite enjoyed it. There were probably 12 in the class.

For Latin 102, there were 2 left standing: a chap named Chris and I. Our new teacher for the term was Dr Eliot, the President of the University. (He passed away in May).

Well. I didn't know him closely (Vic and Colleen knew him much better, being in the Humanities fulltime) but that class held a couple of special memories. We would meet on wintry mornings at a large oak table in a darkly-lit conference room near his office. He was very well studied in the classics: once, he probably played the role of Dickensian taskmaster, but now this was an old lion enjoying his twilight years.

Amongst the datives, the genitives, and the ablatives, there were gentle corrections and cheerful observations about language.

And sometimes observations about the office itself: he had an elderly lady as a secretary who, though kind, would give hearty approval to visitors' jests by, well, braying loudly. One time, late in the semester, the woman had startled us yet again from her office. Dr E, in the midst of a point on Latin versus Old French, leaned toward us conspiratorially and whispered, as though grateful for finally having a sympathetic ear after all these years: "isn't that a wretched laugh?". As quickly as it came, the topic returned to irregular verbs.

The other story is more poignant. Graduation ceremonies included a banquet. I don't remember the name now. I do remember that Vic and I sat at a front table; one among a dozen or more. From the podium, mere feet away, Dr Eliot gave the keynote address. His theme was the purity of education and learning, as being more than merely an means to an end.

As he concluded his speech, the final paragraph began like so, "... and so no matter if you have come here from another continent for pre-med, or...", and then he looked directly at me and smiled, " or if you have come from the farm to learn Latin...". I doubt if anyone really noticed, but that moment was more precious to me than the math and science prizes I would be awarded later that week.

As he did for so many others, he made me feel like we had a pact.

Vic and I led the standing ovation.

4 comments:

Ali said...

Oh, that is sad. I have fond memories of Dr. Willy, I'll never forget how gracious a host he was at a reception at his house once, and of course seeing him in a fabulous toilet paper roll wig during his star cameo in a drama production. And one of my biggest university regrets was that by the time I was there, he was no longer teaching Latin.

Hegemom said...

tristis est.

H'mom

Vic said...

How, great stuff Mike. My favourite memory, CC reader my not know buy I am mostly likely Dyslexic, so learning new language is particularly difficult for me....
I was doing Greek 101 with Willie. He was a student at the digs on Crete. Show us his old slides. It was very interesting.
I want us to write a paper and not proof read it.....
I was summoned to the Presidents office. The conversation started that this..."Are you have troubles at home son..." LOL I knew what is would be all about it before I get there. I explained the situtation and we said feel free to proof all I want.....

CaptainCanuck said...

well said Hegemom!

Thanks for the stories, Ali and Vic

Vic, that is powerful stuff... Like I said, I only wish I had more time with him like you all did.