As they would say on “Project Runway,” he has a “point of view.” Dr. Robert Cole’s style truly does stand alone, and he sticks to the classics: khaki pants, blue collared shirt, red suspenders (only to be replaced occasionally by a reserve black pair), white sneakers and a pocket watch worn as a necklace. I supposed his signature beard could be considered an essential accessory to the ensemble.
It may surprise you, but Dr. Cole isn’t merely a campus fashion icon. He is a master storyteller, and the embodiment of what great journalism used to be. I can just picture him in a large brimmed hat, with a white “PRESS” card tucked in the side.
Since graduating from the College, I have surely not forgotten any of Cole’s words of wisdom, even after leaving the field of journalism behind for government work. I often find myself repeating many of his “Coleisms” in my career and graduate work, like “you know, e-mail is killing good journalism” or attacking my co-workers about the use of serial commas. And when I catch myself, I just sit back and chuckle, “Oh, that silly Dr. Cole.”
Dr. Cole is an unconventional professor, to say the least. I’m certain that Dr. Cole was the only professor who taught his students to avoid bad writing by stabbing your leg with a pencil, especially whenever you catch yourself using clich?s. And I definitely don’t remember hearing of other professors threatening death or permanent mutilation to anyone considering a job reporting for the Trentonian. (Even though some of us did and feared to tell him.)
I will close with one of my favorite Cole memories. One day in my sophomore year, he called me from his home to tell me that the recommendation letters he prepared for me were finished, but he left them locked in his office. Not to worry, because Dr. Cole had made up a covert operation for us – this included bribing the secretary and basically breaking into his office to get the letters.
The tragic flaw in the plan was, if you know what Dr. Cole’s office looks like, it was no easy task to find anything in that office – through the 5-foot piles of old Trenton State letterhead and Signal issues from decades long past. But needless to say, I did get those recommendation letters, and they included possibly the nicest things any one, not just a professor, has ever written about me. I actually feared the scholarship judges would think I made it all up to make myself sound better.
I worry about the College journalism students to come, and what their experience will be without Dr. Cole. I can only be unbelievably grateful I was able to experience his teachings and wisdom while I could. Thank you, Dr. Cole. I know you are leaving some big white sneakers to fill.