01 November 2006

Requiem for a mentor

Well. After four days of gale force winds shaking the house and stripping most leaves from trees and shrubs, the wind finally exhausted itself last night. A gentle calm descended....

...and so did the fog. An interesting way to start November.

I got some sad news last week, and am just finding time now to write about it. One of my professors from my days at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Dr. Lorne A. McFadden, passed away a couple of weeks ago in Truro after an apparently fairly lengthy illness.

Lorne was directly responsible, along with his colleague Albert E. (Doc) Roland, for my development as a plant nut. He taught botany and plant pathology at the AC, and while he was on sabbatical when I took botany in first year, he became more than a professor to me--he became a mentor who encouraged me, and almost a friend. When he wasn't teaching and I wasn't in class, we would spend long periods of time talking about plants, plant diseases, treatments for diseases, weed control....all things to do with the mysteries of plants.

Even then, I was interested in organic gardening/farming, biological control, native plants and such. When in our plant pathology course we had to write a paper on a disease of a crop, I asked "Dr. M" if I could do an essay on biological control of plant pathogens--a topic scarcely discussed back then. He was totally agreeable, and I got an A on the paper--it was actually a mark, and I forget the mark, but an A for sure.

He always encouraged such thought and study in me, and when I decided to leave one program and transfer into plant science, he wrote a very supportive letter to the dean asking that I be allowed to change programs. He got me summer employment at the College, and put in a word for me for parttime work during the class year. He lent me books, answered questions, and was one of the two best teachers I had in my assorted years of post secondary study. (the other one was an English professor at Acadia)

And I'm only one of thousands of students he taught over the years, and one of many who he inspired and encouraged on to bigger and better things.

Lorne was a prodigious gardener, as I got to see once when a fellow professor, one I worked for as a summer student, was leaving to pursue Ph.D studies at Guelph. There was a going away party for Bob at Lorne's house, and I remember spending more time out in the garden looking at plants than with people.

It's been years since I've seen Dr. M--after he retired, I don't know that he ever visited the biology department, and on my infrequent trips to Truro, I wasn't inclined to visit a professor's home--even though several professors have become friends of mine over the years. The details of his illness are unknown to me, and in fact I missed his obituary when it ran in our newspaper; I only found out when my mother mentioned it to me on the phone a week ago.

I haven't decided what shrub I'll plant in his memory next spring, but there certainly will be one. Goodbye, Dr. M, you were one of the best, and i'll ever be grateful for your enthusiasm and encouragement.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Jodi,
    I'm Lorne's grandson, David Morse, and I just wanted to say how touching and heartfelt your blog post is. It provides me with a perspective on the life of my grandfather that I didn't have the opportunity to experience. I'm 22 years old now and studying at Mount Allison University and I can certainly understand the special bond between a student and a favourite professor. I called him Papa, and for months before he died he battled with dignity a disease called ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. He was funny, bright, and loving with everyone around him right up until the end, and I know that he would be absolutely thrilled to be written about this way by a former student. He will indeed be missed by a great many. Thanks so much for your contribution to his memory.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Jodi,
    I noticed my brother David responded to your blog post, so I though I should do the same. My name is Sam Morse and I wanted to thank you so much for writing about our "Papa" in such a great way. Growing up I got to see many sides of Lorne, but like Dave said, that was one side I never really got to see. He was a mentor to all and your post explains exactly why. Being the only grandson home these days, I try to keep the property as beautiful as I can..but as you and I both know nothing can compare the way he cared for his plants and gardens. He will be missed by many, but his teachings will always be with us.
    Thank you again,
    Sam Morse

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm so glad to hear from both of you, David and Sam; this is the only way I have to reply to you asI don't have your emails, obviously. Your Papa influenced many other students in the most positive of ways, and I often thought of him and wondered if he knew just how much of my career as a writer--and an obsessive gardener--was due in no small part to his wisdom, humour and encouragement. Had it not been for him, I may have left NSAC without completing a course--and probably wouldn't have gone on to collect two degrees in English, either. I'm deeply sorry for your family's loss, of course, but am glad to add some more happy memories and perspectives to your scrapbook of your Papa. And I'm especially delighted to hear from Lorne's grandsons...somehow I always knew, even back then at college, that he'd be a wonderful grandfather.


    warmly, jodi

    ReplyDelete

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