It was only August so I was surprised and excited to see a letter in my mailbox from my graduate school advisor. I had gone to graduate school in New Mexico and for the past 20 years, we had kept in touch, but usually only at Christmas time. What new thing was happening with him?
I had met Dr. Darrell Wiley when I was a young graduate student in my early 20s. He was a professor right out of central casting – white hair, slight build, black glasses and tweed jackets. I was anxious enough about attending graduate school.,but when more than one person said, “Oh, Dr. Wiley is your advisor? He is tough.” I was really scared.
He seemed pretty harmless though and, in fact, he quickly became one of favorite professors. I loved his dry wit and the twinkle in his eye when he told a story. He was extremely intelligent and shared his knowledge readily with his students. Perhaps most endearing to me was the fact that he reminded me of my father back in Pittsburgh, thousands of miles away.
I certainly wasn’t alone in my admiration for Dr. Wiley. He had taught public school and was a principal before coming to higher education. He had taught legions of students and was a friend to many.
One of the things I so enjoyed in his annual Christmas letter was his descriptions of his travels with his wife, Irene. He would also share stories about his reunions with his WW II buddies. I learned of the accomplishments of his grandchildren and now, even his great-grandchildren.
When I went through a divorce and my children were very little, I may have skipped a Christmas or two with my notes to Dr. Wiley but always, every year, I received one from him.
And when I published a cookbook, I sent one to him. He had meant so much to me; I wanted him to share in my success.
My children and partner, Paul, were all in the front of my house when I told them I had received Dr. Wiley’s letter. Paul remarked, “I can’t believe you still keep in touch with your advisor.” I replied, “I know. I am really excited to see what he has to say.”
I tore open the letter and gasped. It was a copy of his obituary with a handwritten note from his beloved Irene. “Oh, he died,” I said and started crying. I shouldn’t have been surprised, he was 81. But I had thought Dr. Wiley would live forever. Ironically, he died on my father’s birthday.
Dr. Wiley touched thousands of lives. Everyone should live like Dr. Wiley and leave so many people loving and admiring us when we die. I know he had a good life and I know that now that if there is a place such as heaven, he is there. Quite frankly, I am happy to know one of the good guys is looking out for me. But I sure am going to miss those Christmas letters.
By Kathleen Ganster