Remembering Paul Burgett

The thing about the ones we love is that we tend to think that there’s more time. That there will be a tomorrow. That we can make that call another time.

Just now, I found out that University of Rochester Vice President Paul Burgett, (Dean of Students when I attended) passed away. And while Dean Burgett was not a family member by blood, he held that place in my heart.

Like most U of R students, my first interaction with Dean Burgett was when he taught my freshmen class the alma mater at our orientation. He had attended the music college at U of R, Eastman School. His rich baritone anchored us to the fields beside the Genessee River and connected us with the history of the place. A place where Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were both celebrated. Even though he was an administrator, he taught an African-American music history class.┬áHe told us then that he’d intentionally set up his office in the student center so that he’d be available to us any time.

I took advantage of his invitation often. (Probably more than he wanted to see me.) I met his assistant Bev, another amazing person, who stood by him throughout his career. Our meetings were just times to chat about music and art and travel. When I made occasional trips to campus, I visited him. When he became Vice President, he changed offices but still made time for students.

He helped me with career choice, wrote recommendations for me, and believed that I would succeed.

Dean Burgett was University of Rochester for me.

Last fall, my son was looking at University of Rochester too. I contacted Dean Burgett again, and, despite his busy schedule, he made time to give Ethan one of his trademark bear-like hugs. U of R wasn’t Ethan’s first choice but he said that if he went, V.P. Burgett would be the main reason.

I never properly thanked Paul for all the time, music, and positive energy he gave to me, gave to others, and gave to an institution he loved. He was a voice for all the students but was especially supportive of the Black Student Union and others. I assumed I might see him at my 25th reunion this fall. Now, I can’t believe I’ll never get one of those hugs again.

Rest in peace, Paul. You left too soon. I had so much to tell you.Dean Burgett.jpg

The University of Rochester has set up a tribute page here.


Good-bye Sam the Dog

This is not the entry I had planned for today. I’ll write about the conference and other good news tomorrow. Know that while this is a sad entry, there is much joy in my life. As we ride the roller coaster of life we never really know or control what is around the next bend.

It is with deep sadness and regret that I tell you, we had to put our dog Sam to sleep today.

Sam was probably 10 or 11 years old, and his dark blue black fur was almost completely gray at his muzzle and on his belly. Over the last six months he had grown thin loosing 30 pounds. Where once he was meaty and muscley, today he was only skin and bones. In the last 24 hours he lost control of his bowels entirely and I knew it was time. I will miss his loyalty, company, and protection.

We brought Sam home from the Edgecomb shelter in September of 1998. Already two or three years old, Sam had his share of issues. He ran off, he got into garbage, he tried to sleep on the couch at night, he was the worst mooch at the dinner table and he stole food from the counters when you turned your back on him. But Sammy loved to swim and fetch and get a good belly rub. Scratch him on his bum just above the tail, around the ears or under his front legs, and he’d be your buddy forever.

He loved cold weather, so our home in Maine was perfect for him. He’d explore the snowy landscape as I cross- country skiied nearby. This always made me think of an abstract painting that I hope to create someday– “Black dog in the snow.” It will be a black smudge on an otherwise white canvas. “Snow doggy!” I’d yell, and he’d leap through the snow, bounding over drifts. I threw snowballs that he caught and munched. He rolled over on his back and wiggled side to side taking a snow bath. Then he’d jump up and look where he’d been. It seemed that these were his doggy snow angels. 

Sam had a super sniffer. He could snif out mice, garbage and food anywhere. If something tempted Sammy’s nose, whether it was under snow, in the ground, buried in the woodpile, or in the rafters, he’d root, dig, and climb to get it. 

Sam inspired my art and writing. In “Watch that tail Sammy,” I wrote about his whacking, smacking tail that swung right at toddler eye level. Sam was great with our boys and other children who could get past the fact that he was an 80 pound big, black dog. I’ll never forget the image of Sam lying under the basinet guarding I. when we brought him home from the hospital nine years ago. 

Sam had a special relationship with my father. Whenever Dad visited, Sam stuck close to him. Sam nuzzled Dad, putting his nose on my father’s lap and pushing his hand to the top of that doggy head. My father in turn scratched and pat Sam around the scruff of the neck and around his ears. The two old men seemed to appreciate an afternoon nap in the sun and each other. 

Good-bye Sam.