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Lessons Learned with Terri Brint Joseph

Terri Brint Joseph knew how to make a fellow professor's day.  Spring semester, '92, English Prof. Tom Massey had had a stroke the previous Fall.  Tom Massey loved his students and he let you know it.  He didn't just critique and correct improper grammar from your Emerson or Whitman essay, but was effusive with his praise.  Encouraging.  He was obviously beloved as well by his colleagues.

Lucky for Prof. Massey that Terri Brint Joseph was sensitive to his missing the Chapman students, as he was unable, still recovering from his stroke, to attend his classes.  So, what does Prof. Joseph decide to spontaneously do one Tuesday afternoon that Spring '92 semester for an "advanced creative writing" course, but bring the classroom to Prof. Massey.  Lucky for Prof. Massey that his home, a handsome Craftsman with those striking wraparound porches replete with swinging benches and hanging ferns, a house practically ubiquitous in the sycamore and maple shaded neighborhood surrounding Chapman University, leafy and even colorful (for California) in the Fall, was in walking distance of the campus.

So, fifteen of us, led by Prof. Joseph, tromped on over to Prof. Massey's home so he could get back to class and maybe feel just a little bit less lonesome that day.  He looked good too for just having had a stroke, his gray-brown beard neatly trimmed per usual, bespectacled, the rugged lines in his face maybe just a wee bit deeper since his stroke, but otherwise, looking fine bedecked in faded blue jeans and blue-and-white checkered flannel over a plain white T-shirt.  He sat in his rocking chair while his gorgeous daughter (a Chapman student) kept a close on him, making sure he didn't exert himself too much, and listened attentively to his students recite their poetry and excerpts from their short stories (mostly low quality schlock, I might add) but you'd never know it from his deft reactions and incisive comments.  Stroke or not, Prof. Massey was still sharp.

Prof. Joseph mostly mediated the session and beamed at Prof. Massey.  We couldn't stay long, because it was a ten minute walk to his house and the class was only fifty minutes, but it was an half hour that I'll never forget, as it was the last time I ever saw Prof. Massey before he died.  Terri Brint Joseph gave us a gift that day: not only time with Prof. Massey -- for some of us, our last time with him -- but perhaps more importantly, a vital (albeit, unspoken) life lesson that people are always more important than scheduled lesson plans.  Thank you, Terri, for teaching me so much more than just poetry and literature in your advanced creative writing class that Spring day eighteen years ago.


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