The End of an Era

It’s always dangerous when my posse can’t make a run. Like this morning when it was just Tupac and my thoughts.

The more I thought about my best work friend of all time, Mike Hillis, leaving for another job, the more sad I became. When my dad died suddenly from a heart attack at age 69, many of his co-workers wrote beautiful letters about what they most appreciated about him. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to communicate those things to him directly.

Depending upon the department’s leadership, faculty composition, morale, and overall vibe, I’ve enjoyed some of my 18 PLU years more than others. Throughout the roller coaster ride, my close friendship with Mike has been the only constant.

We did lots of good work together—published curricula; built a grad program; taught innumerable teachers throughout the state; and more recently, provided the department with competent and caring leadership. A treasure trove of fond memories. Like being in Oslo one winter together and teaching some summers in Yakima, WA. Our Yak routine: each morning, while Mike ironed his pants, I’d watch the Tour de France until the last minute, then a Starbucks quick hit, then a co-teaching marathon, then dinner at one of Mike’s favorite craft breweries.

Except for the pleat in his pants, his injury plagued Windows PC, his inveterate reading, his gardening and home brewing genius, we were incredibly similar—introverted, ill at ease with the academy’s self importance, family-oriented, philosophical, and sports-minded. Any day now, he will again overestimate how many games the Mariners will win this year. What an irony if they make a playoff run this season now that he’ll be surrounded by Giant/Dodger/Angel fans.

I don’t know what I’m going to miss most, maybe his sense of humor. He’s a great story teller which was especially nice when we were driving around the state. In high school he was a much better running back than he was a student and his older brothers and him nearly drove his poor mom crazy. He has Jon Stewart-like antenna for hypocrisy and is quickest to laugh at himself. I shudder to think what it’s going to be like to not hear his laugh fill our office suite anymore.

Or maybe I’ll miss his human decency the most. His love of his family, his positive regard for everyone, his modeling teaching and leadership excellence.

Or maybe it’s his humility. In part, I did this to myself because I told the search committee, “He has no ego.” What a privilege it’s been to work with someone who is more focused on doing good work than who will get the credit for that work.

Or his resilience and preternatural calm. Mike’s been passed over here for promotions and came in second elsewhere. Major props to California Lutheran University for resisting a self-promoter and instead choosing humor, human decency, and humility.

Mike couldn’t be more deserving of this opportunity and he’s going to flourish if he avoids sunburn.

Thanks Mike for your friendship, with a nod to Robert Frost, it’s made all the difference.

I’ll be okay, eventually. I hope.