It’s the very first class of my very first day as a transfer student at a college where I know no one and everyone in the room seems to know everyone else. In walks a tall, Amish-bearded man, a filled-out version of Abe Lincoln, pushing an overhead projector.
He stops in front, looks at a sheet of paper, raises his head and wraps a mild southern drawl around a two-word question: “Timothy Quinn?” From my seat in the back, under the increasing scrutiny of my unknown classmates, I raise my hand. “See me after class, please.”
Such was my nervous introduction to the man who would become my most valued teacher and, in time, a mentor, colleague and friend, a guy those of my generation simply called “Bob.”
Largely because of Bob, I didn’t stay in the back of the classroom for long. He encouraged me to join The Signal — there isn’t enough space here to get into that – and he gave me the tip that helped me land my first job at a daily. (We ran into each other outside a Phillies game, now that I think of it.) I even had the pleasure of working on the same copy desk with him a few times. He remained a trusted advisor throughout my career. More important, he had become a friend.
Decades later, after I’d left newspapers for the hardscrabble world of greater-good public relations, I needed an intern. Bypassing what I’m sure is a perfectly good PR writing program, I called Bob and he recommended someone who must have reminded him a little of me: a transfer student and commuter who was a little rough around the edges, though this one was from Eastern Europe instead of Eastern Pennsylvania. She was the first in what has become a happy succession of interns from the College Formerly Known as Trenton State.
These kids indulge me when I tell my stories of times long past, and they blush a little and politely decline when I prod them to just call him Bob (to them, he’s always “Dr. Cole”). A bond that spans generations joins us: admiration and affection for an exceptional teacher and human being.