November 2008

Farewell, soldier and teacher

Dean Charles Burchett died yesterday, and the world will be forever lesser because he is gone.

He served many roles in his lifetime, but when I crossed his path, he was the Dean of Student Conduct at UT.  I was a freshman, with something of a disregard for formalities, like dorm rules.

In fairness, the RA on my floor felt kind of put-upon to have to supervise the only floor without unlimited visitation that summer.  She was a goody-two-shoes sort, and I think she had a general dislike for freshmen in general.  Fortunately for her, there weren’t many of us.  Unfortunately for us, there weren’t many of us, so there were fewer to share the possibility of blame.

I did a few things that probably deserved probation on the basis of conduct, like calling for the elevator, and just as the door opened, firing a bottle rocket under her door, hopping in, and departing at some random floor in Carrick Hall to wander about innocently, before taking the stairs to the lobby.  Never got busted for that one, even though I must have done it a half-dozen times.


But on the day of a surprise room inspection, I merited close scrutiny, and was written up for three different things on the same day.  As any Vol knows, three write-ups in a quarter earns one a series of weekly visits with the Dean.  My crimes?  A cat, a refrigerator not rented from the official usurers, and I’d re-wired a phone to put an extension by my bed (this was in the old days, where there was one phone for two double rooms).

Pretty mild, compared to some of what Dean Burchett dealt with on a daily basis.  But he took his responsibility to counsel me seriously, using humor and compassion to reach out to a student who didn’t realize the guidance that was needed.  It must have taken though, because I can still hear his words today.

He asked me if I went to church, and I told him I did.  He asked where, and I told him the name of my home church in Oak Ridge.  "Well, that’s the problem!" he exclaimed, "those Methodists are too damned liberal."

(I’m still a Methodist, though I concede that liberals are welcome and do exist there.)

I didn’t miss the humor in that statement… and from that point on, I actually looked forward to visiting him each week.  Even after the quarter ended and I was no longer required to show up, I dropped by from time to time just to chat.

At the end of every meeting he would tell me, "You’re not a bad girl.  You just like a little mischief."

I needed that.

Tim, Charles, and Joyce, your father shone his light on many.  You’re lucky to have been his first priorities, and the rest of us are lucky to have had our 30 minutes a week for a few months.

Charter Congratulations

Although most of the nation waited expectantly for news of who will be our next President, I fell asleep before even the local results were in.

It was a long day for me, campaigning for the ten candidates I supported for Charter Commission.  I couldn’t vote for all ten, obviously — and it was hard to narrow my choices down to seven.  But they’re a fine group of people, including some folks new to city politics that I hope to see on the ballot again someday.

Five of ours were elected: Gene Caldwell, Pat Postma, Leonard Abbatiello, Chuck Agle, and David McCoy.  Girlfriend pointed out in an early morning e-mail that the youngest one elected is 50-something… wondering if some of the town’s seniors bought into the idea spread by some of the opposition that the future of the Senior Center depended on election of the "right" candidates for Charter Commission.

That’s just silly, of course, but no sillier than some of the other half-truths or outright falsehoods spread during the campaign.

I’m also grateful for our five candidates who ran but were not elected: Mary Helen Rose, who is knowledgeable about the Charter; Ella DuBose, who served on the Charter Review Committee and is someone I’d really like to see continue in public life in Oak Ridge; Paula Flowers, a relative newcomer to Oak Ridge but with tremendous expertise and insight into the types of issues we’re dealing with; Scott Linn, a history teacher at Jefferson who is reasonable, personable, and brings perspective to our challenges; and Mike Mahathy, a health physicist who is a bundle of energy  with great ideas, and committed to the future of this City.

Everyone put in a great deal of work, with most devoting as much (or more) effort to the success of the whole as to their personal campaigns.  That, to me, is a tremendous statement of readiness for public office — a willingness to put the success of an idea or effort above one’s personal goals.

Folks, my hat’s off to all of you.

How should I answer?

Campaigning at Linden today for HWTFM and his ORION teammates, I had one encounter that left me at a total loss as to how to respond.

A woman emerged from the polling place, and made it a point to tell me that she voted against my husband because of "what [I] did to Brenda Fellner."  Puzzled, I asked her exactly what that was, as I cast the lone vote NOT to fire her.

She argued that, in the second (post-hearing) vote, I "did too" vote for firing.  I suggested that she go back and check the newspaper, because I was the lone dissenter, voting against the motion to terminate.

It occurred to me later that I had the minutes of that meeting in my car, but it was already too late — she’d already voted.  It’s kind of like Jerry Kuhaida being thrown off City Council in 1995 because of people’s anger over Parcel A (he’d voted against it), only worse — it wasn’t my husband who cast the vote she took issue with.

I hate feeling like baggage to him.

Season’s Change

UT’s had a less than stellar season; at the end of this season, there’s going to be a change.

Fulmer’s outta here.  Phil’s a good man, and I wish him well, wherever he goes.

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