Reposted with permission, from the Statesman Journal
This Memorial Day many members of Willamette University's extended family will remember Robert "Bob" Hawkinson, who arrived on campus as a politics professor in 1982 and served as dean of campus life for a decade (1998-2009).
Bob passed away last Sunday, May 22, while reading the newspaper at a Starbucks near his home. I was not surprised to learn that Bob was popular among the coffee shop's employees. One was a student and one of his mentees, while many others loved his good humor and sage advice. Bob died doing what he loved best: enjoying coffee, engaging in politics and nurturing the young people who surrounded him.
Many people knew Bob longer than I — I met him during my job interview in 2003 and worked for him for three years — though I like to think that we had a special connection. From a small starting point, that his mother and I shared Kansas as a home state, Bob learned my passions and goals and provided opportunities that fostered both.
We shared an interest in the history of higher education, which I left Willamette to pursue a doctorate in, and several of the classic books in my library were originally Bob's. He gave me nine of his trademark bow ties as a parting gift. In an intentional (though unknown to Bob) homage to him, I wore one of those ties to my dissertation defense and another to my graduation the week before he died.
What made Bob so special is that the connection I felt with him was shared by hundreds of others. Since his passing, many have written about their relationship with Bob on [this] blog.
He served many roles for many people: a dedicated teacher, a committed colleague, a supportive supervisor, an excellent career counselor and a delightful travel companion. He brought his marvelous sense of humor to each of these roles.
Although Bob had transitioned into a less formal position at Willamette in the last two years, he continued to regularly and meaningfully touch the lives of faculty, staff and, especially, students. He rippled pleasantly across people's lives like the Mill Stream that runs through campus.
I last spoke to Bob in April when I called to ask him to be a reference. He was more than happy to, but he quickly turned the conversation to my graduate school experiences and the goals for my academic career. We also laughed at how his scholarly life had come full circle.
Reminiscent of his graduate student days, he was primarily wearing jeans and working out of a windowless office. He told me to come visit him this summer to pick up some more bow ties; he was wearing them less and less.
Bob's life circle was far closer to closing than either of us knew during that conversation. I'll forever be sad that I couldn't visit him this summer and pick up some more bow ties. I'll forever be grateful that I — and many others — learned from Bob how to make meaningful connections within our communities.
We all should strive to lead a life as connected as his. If we do, it will be a strong indication that we, like Bob, left the world a better place.
Michael Hevel received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa this month and can be reached at michael.hevel (at) gmail.com.