While visiting my Alma Mater Radford University earlier this week, I found myself surrounded by business students yearning for “in the trench stories” when I was alerted to the fact that Dr. Nick Pappas was on campus.
I was further advised that Young Hall is currently under reconstruction, and the Political Science Department can be found over at Russell.
I double-timed my way over there straight away.
I could not find his office quickly enough, so Dr. Sidney Peterson (there is a story around this man as well) escorted me down the hall and to a door with a simple poster of a circus on it. Inside we found Dr. Pappas bent over a book reading softly aloud to himself. There was no computer (he won’t use email) on his desk that (as always) was littered with books (Plato’ Republic? Hobbes’s Thucydides?) and insundry notes of some kind or another. Dr. Pappas must be near 75 now. Dr. Peterson gently cleared his throat and Pappas turned carefully in his chair. He was wearing (what I am sure he would call) spectacles. When our eyes met his widened in recognition.
I was only just thinking about you two weeks ago. What have you been up to Christian?
Dr. Peterson quietly left the room nodding his head with that rueful smile on his lips.
I stood there for a minute just grinning.
Please sit down and tell me about yourself.
We talked briefly about my work (it seems so unimportant compared to what this man has done for over 45 years), about my girls (and, of course, soccer).
This is a man that flung himself on a grenade to save other members of his squad while serving as a Marine in Viet Nam (See Philip J. Caputo’s A Rumor of War).
We reminisced over “power muffins”.
I am still filled with so much emotion (around this particular trip – but, seeing Pappas in particular). However, I think the important part is I finally had an opportunity to look him in the eyes and tell him first-hand what he has meant to me all these years. What an enormous impact his teaching and lessons have had on my role in business and society. We talked about two certain and pivotal discussions he and I had over 25 years ago; and, another 10 years ago; and, how that transitional exchange set the stage for me and my role in society.
NOTE: It was, indeed, that very exchange he was contemplating two weeks ago.
In any event, I earnestly explained to Dr. Pappas, while leaning forward in my own chair, that from the day I graduated, I have worked so very hard to earn my time with him (and his belief in me), and at Radford University, each and every day.
He taught me that it is not about me – but, what I do.
He looked away for a moment or so, and then said:
Well… I’ll be. I never thought like that. I do this every day for 25 years (its longer). Thanks for letting me know.
So simple. So matter-of-fact. So astonishingly humble. This man who has transformed thousands of young minds.
He then told me a story about Radford when it was still a College. Some how the topic of John Adams, and then the emerging football team, wound its way into the dialogue. The relationship somehow made perfect sense listening to him.
He paused; looked at me and said:
Chris, give yourself an Arette (this is a big deal).
He paused, then softly added:
Let me give you the recipe for power muffins.
He carefully scrawled an almost illegible list of ingredients on a note card and handed it to me with s sly smile.
I say chocolate chips. But, I mean a SINFUL amount of chocolate chips.
He (carefully – but nonetheless imposingly) reared himself up out of his chair. I shouldered my bag and shook his hand.
And, then he began to sing me a tune – an old Radford College fight song.
As I strode out of his office he swelled his (still) mighty chest and began to belt that tune. It grew louder as I made my way down the hall and out of the building.
I will probably work on this post some more. I just needed to share.
We all need a Dr. Pappas in our lives.
Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.
Brian Patrick Cork