Friday, February 16, 2018

Dr. Michael Livingston: Tribute to Professor James W. Vardaman

I found a wonderful tribute to Professor Vardaman by a man whose life Vardaman changed, and I'm posting some of the tribute below (though the entire tribute can be found at the link):
A Great Teacher is an Earthquake – For Dr Vardaman

Michael Livingston, 2 February 2018

A great teacher is an earthquake . . . . I learned today that Dr James W. Vardaman has passed away.

He was a great teacher.

He was one of my earthquakes.

I . . .  had a number of scholarship offers for college . . . , including one from Baylor University . . . . [W]hen my father and I traveled to Texas for some campus visitations, Baylor happened to be a point between other destinations . . . . [W]e stopped into the visitor center.

It was a Friday, early afternoon. Campus was relatively quiet. The folks who greeted us learned that I wanted to study history, to become a teacher. Phone calls were made, and they suggested I go meet with a history professor who happened to be in his office.

A fault line, though I didn't know it, was forming.

Not long afterward, I found myself alone in the basement of the Tidwell Bible Building, home of the Department of History . . . . Professor Vardaman was grading.

I knocked. He looked up . . . The next hour comes in flashes. We talked of many things. Throughout, he treated me as a peer, as a man. He was, he later admitted, appraising me. In those minutes he found my strengths, my weaknesses, and most importantly, my potential. He knew what I needed, because this is exactly what a great teacher does.

He introduced me around. The world was a blur. He told me I belonged at Baylor. He told me he wanted me to be in his classes. He shook my hand.

I remember walking out to meet my dad, who was sitting on a bench beneath a wide and glorious tree. It was our first campus visit, but I confess to you now that I already knew exactly where I was going to go . . . .  Dr Vardaman, in a few minutes that afternoon, changed my life.

And then he did it again.

A few weeks into my sophomore year, I walked out of Dr Rust's survey course on the modern world and found a familiar face in the hall, waiting for me. I had not yet been able to have Professor Vardaman in class, but he'd apparently been keeping tabs on me. "I want you to come to Europe," he said.

I was, you must understand, a young man from a modest background who could count on one hand the number of times he had crossed the Mississippi. "Europe?"

His great bushy eyebrows nodded. "I run a study abroad program every spring in The Netherlands. I want you to come". . . .

Dollar signs were flashing in my head. Lots of them. If it wasn't for the scholarships I couldn't afford to be at Baylor at all. To add expenses to Europe on top of that? Well . . .

"I don't think I can afford it," I said.

The eyes beneath those eyebrows twinkled. "But if you could afford it then you would go?"

"Sure," I said, thinking he was risking nothing . . . .

A week later he was waiting there again. Same time. Same spot.

"Can we talk?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

His gaze appraised, seemed satisfied. "You're going to come to Europe with me."

"Dr Vardaman," I said, trying to be gentle on the good soul, "I told you, I just don't think we can afford it. I've got scholarships, but --"

He waved me off. "Oh, I took care of that. I told some people you needed to go and now you have an extra scholarship to help cover it."

"You . . . what?"

"Let's go to my office," he said. "We'll need to talk about the details."

Not waiting for my reply, not waiting for me to retrieve my jaw from the floor, he turned on his heels and headed for the stairway to the basement. I followed him . . . to his office and then across the Atlantic to a semester spent in Maastricht that fundamentally altered my perception of the world and my place within it.

[And now,] James Vardaman has died. For all of us, the earth quakes again.
A good tribute. I need add no more . . . but Livingston does, so go to the link.

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