Friday, August 14, 2009

John Burton's words at the Memorial Service

W. Michael Reed (1950 – 2009)

It is not often that someone speaks for Mike Reed. What he did spoke for itself and when necessary, he was pretty capable and willing to express his own views).
This is my second time.

The first was on the occasion of his reception of the Benedum Distinguished Scholar Award at the University of West Virginia. As part of the celebration, Mike made a speech about research generally and his research particularly. I drew the honor of making the introductory speech. He had already won WVU’s highest award for teaching and service so this was the “trifecta.”
Bonnie and I joined him for the weekend. He was happy and I was unduly proud.

This occasion is obviously a different kind of celebration but maybe not so different. The first was a celebration of his life as a researcher; as an academic. Today we celebrate his life as a friend, colleague, son, brother, and uncle.

I first met Mike sometime in 1981 I think. He was my first doctoral student and although I shared the honor with Patricia Kelly – I smothered Mike with more attention than anyone should get. (Other “early” students such as Mike Orey, Sue Magliaro, and Wayne Nelson would probably agree I’m sure).
I had too much time.
Norm Dodl and I had just opened the first computer lab in the college of education (the lab and the college are both gone now) and Mike was our only GA. Yet we stayed open 60 hours a week and Mike was all the staff there was. He slept in the lab many nites going home only to change clothes and watch the “Price is right.”
We taught classes and workshops together.
We researched and wrote together.
We traveled and presented together.
And because we could, we drank copious amounts of beer together. And talked.

Life was good.
But there was that dissertation.

As I said, I smothered him with more feedback than anyone would ever want.
Mike, as you may know, was an English major.
I truly believe that he thought he would bring his first draft of his work in and that I would praise every word of it and we would put the dissertation behind us.
It did not go that way.
In fact….It did not go well.
I scribbled all over his draft. We would meet and read the markups to each other word-by-word.
We fought. He had an advantage in that he knew the rules of the English language and I only knew what” sounded right.”
But I had the advantage because I was the advisor.
I bullied. I outright banned the use of hyphens and semicolons. He sulked.
He wanted to be creative and use his thesaurus. I wanted him to be boring and repetitive.
He tried to reason using the rules of grammar but I didn’t know the rules of grammar so his arguments fell on deaf ears.
I mostly won.
He kept every draft that I had marked up and stacked them in the lab. The stack got high. And higher. In fact the stack of old fan-fold computer paper got to be around 3 feet or so.
(Mike took the stack with him when he finished). I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up in his effects or last wishes.

Two things happened during this process:

One was that two first year docs, Susan Magliaro and Mary Alice Barksdale, discussed his work with him and, playfully I assume, poked fun of his assumptions and measures.
Mike (who could get “grumpy” in such situations was not. In fact he was somewhat bemused I think. In one of those ironic twists that happen, Mary Alice ended up using most of the same assumptions and measures as I recall.
More importantly, Mary Alice went on to “follow” Mike to WVU a few years after he finished and arrived.
Despite a few bumps, the friendship that began at Tech was tempered at WVU and became long, powerful and important.

Second, in one of those throw off lines that advisors pass off for wisdom to justify what they are doing, (and undoubtedly after a beer or two) I apparently told Mike something to the effect that “The most important thing you can give to your student is your time.” (Meaning he should be happy that I was making him write and re-write. He cited this back to me on a couple of occasions and, if I ever said it, there is no doubt that Mike gave that time to his students and his colleagues and it was important. If I every really “talked the talk,” it was Mike who “walked the walk.” As an advisor and as an editor he was thorough in his reviews but he also provided copious amounts of feedback to make it better. He was about making his students better – as good as they could get.

If there is a regret today it is that Mike had no idea how many lives he had touched and how deeply he had touched them by just giving them his time. He won awards, published some nice stuff, wrote a novel but I don’t think he knew how important his real efforts were. How absolutely successful he was.

Make no mistake, Mike Reed lived life the way he wanted to live it.
He loved to play tennis and he played it as long as his knees held out. He didn’t like any other form of exercise so he didn’t do it.
He ate what he wanted to eat.
He went where he wanted to go.
He knew and understood the dangers of smoking but he liked it so he did it – a lot.
He liked to gamble and he gambled.
He like his dogs and he doted on his dogs. He was loyal to his friends and he had many. More than anyone I’ve ever met…
He pretty much did it all his way.

I doubt Mike had many regrets and we should not either. Mike’s legacy is not in his published work but in the scores of his students and colleagues.
He will be missed but he will be remembered.
We are his legacy.
We are better for having known him.

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