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Memorial for a Colleague

September 13, 2012

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

In my last post, “Out of the Convention, Into a Retreat,” I wrote that my next column would “be dealing with the aftermath of retreats. Something unexpected always happens.”

The something unexpected that happened was the sudden death on Aug. 23 of one of our most popular teachers in the history of the Greenlee School. Barbara Mack was teaching four classes. I had been emailing her about journalism and school functions. The next thing we knew was that she had passed.

To see how an administrator handles such a situation, you might want to read my essay, “24 Hours,” in Inside Higher Ed.

After dealing with such tasks as re-assigning classes and advisees, we had to plan a memorial service that involved coordination with the faculty and family. Keep in mind that Prof. Mack taught at the Greenlee School for 26 years and helped establish our culture of service to students who include, among others, Pulitzer Prize-winning Chris Adam and CNN Anchor Christine Romansóboth of whom left their journalism posts to attend the memorial service, which we held by our campanile with seating for 1000 in a tent on the green.

You can view the memorial by clicking here. Then scroll down the page to the videos.

As director, I was tasked with concluding the memorial service. We each were held to no more than 5 minutes. How to encompass Barbara’s life in so short a time frame?

My only recourse was to write a poem to capture as much of her essence as possible.

The Wondrous Array

For Barbara Mack, 1952-2012

We summon you today as anecdote,
Recalling how you confiscated phones
When freshmen read their Facebook during class
Or how you taught the narcoleptic tardy

Punctuality and punctuation.
You laid down law in law and still they came
To love the level scales of justice
As much as you, replacement mother,

Away from home and harvest. Far too soon
The drought-resistant corn has tasseled
Tidily in test plots like alumni
Bowing at commencement, row by row.

You left us at your favored time of year,
Another term, proposed to be your last.
We planned to celebrate retirement
With colleagues who assemble here instead

And listen to the peals of campanile
As you alight among us here, and there,
Untouched but felt, unheard but understood,
Unseen and yet beheld in wondrous array.

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