An A+ Professor

What I did not tell you last night was that when I returned home from the funeral, I checked Facebook and found that someone else had died–a beloved former professor of mine. He deserves a whole post of his own, so I waited until today to tell you about him.

M. Deane White

During the time that I was a student at what was then LeTourneau College, there was never more than one other English major in addition to myself. Therefore, I took a lot of classes from the primary English professors–Dr. Ralph Gilbert (my advisor) and Dr. Deane White.

One of the first things I noticed about Deane was that he had most definitely gone to the ultra-fundamentalist university I had attended for my freshman year. He didn’t say so, but I could tell by things that he said. Back then, I could spot someone from that school almost instantly. So right away, I felt something of a bond, and later we enjoyed comparing notes about our time there.

Deane was tall and thin and professorial, and had the huge mustache to prove it. Here is a photo of him with his family, stolen off Facebook, taken at about the time I first met him:

 Deane & Dorothy White with girls

Before long, I was really enjoying his classes–and working very hard. Deane announced at the beginning of the semester that he didn’t believe in awarding the grade of A+. “A,” he said, implied perfection, and you couldn’t do better than perfection. Therefore, “A” would only be given for assignments that were perfect, and anything less than perfect would be an “A-.” I was so motivated to get that elusive A!

I think it was my junior year that I was taking Shakespeare from Deane, who by then was possibly my favorite professor. He was telling us in class that we were all invited to come to his house to watch a Shakespeare play on video. He told us to be sure to come to the front door, because “only really good friends can come in through the side door.” I remember thinking at that moment, I wish I was one of the favored few who could use the side door!

Believe it or not, that came to pass. Deane and his sweet wife Dorothy started having my future husband and me come to babysit their adorable daughters, Nicole and Camille–“our two little French girls,” Deane said. The girls loved to hold Walter’s hands, “walk” up his body and then have him flip them over at the end. We loved hanging out with that family.

Because English majors were so scarce in those days, there were not actually enough upper-level English classes for someone like me, so I “had” to do some of my upper-level classes as one-on-one independent studies with Ralph and with Deane. The one I remember being most challenged by was Literary Criticism. Deane worked me hard and I had train my brain to work in ways it had never worked before. Plus, I got to read through the entirety of The Golden Bough, which opened a whole new world for me.

The summer after my junior year, Walter and I got married, as he had finished all but one of his classes. We were destitute. We did not have enough money to pay the deposit on married student housing (a mobile home).  Deane and Dorothy invited us to stay with them after we returned from our very low-budget honeymoon, and then to house-sit for them while they took a three-week trip to England. What an answer to prayer!

We rolled into their driveway with our car loaded to the roof and only 53 cents to our name. They welcomed us with enthusiasm, then housed us and fed us for several days before they left on their trip. They insisted that we sleep in the master bedroom and help ourselves to all the food in the fridge and freezer while they were gone. Those weeks were a haven of peace as we adjusted to being married in their lovely home. One thing I remember doing during that time was getting up very early to watch the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana on Deane and Dorothy’s TV, just 10 days after our own wedding. We did not own a TV so I wouldn’t have been able to see it otherwise.

By the time they returned, Walter had received a paycheck and we had moved into our trailer. We were still invited over for meals regularly, and we still babysat the girls. I felt rather bereft when Deane accepted a teaching position in California about the time that I graduated.

I sometimes think Deane was disappointed that I chose to focus my efforts on raising and educating a family for three decades, instead of pursuing a writing or teaching career. But I think he’d be happy to know that all of my children are writers and storytellers. I hope he’d be proud of me for teaching so many kids in addition to my own how to write so they could make it through college.

I had intended to send him a copy of my memoir, but I never got around to it and now I’ll never know if he would have liked it. If my novels finally get published, he won’t be around to rejoice with me.

I always thought we would see Deane and Dorothy again. In fact they came here to Texas a year or two ago but we never heard about it till they had left again. On Thursday, Dorothy posted on Facebook that Deane was in hospice care. I felt stricken. I thought, well, I can write him a thank you note and tell him what a blessing he was to me. I planned to do that today, but yesterday came the news that he had already been called home. So instead of a thank-you note, I wrote this post so you will all have at least an inkling of what the world has lost.


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