by Joyce DiPastena
When I first handed a copy of my book, Loyalty’s Web, to my sister, she flipped to the dedication, pleased to see our parents listed there, then said in a puzzled voice:
“Who’s Dr. Thomas Parker, and why did you also dedicate your book to him?”
Dr. Parker, as I say in my dedication, was a “professor of Medieval History at the University of Arizona, who with passion and wit, fed my history-hungry soul.”
If I ever loved a professor during my college years, it was Dr. Thomas Parker. Probably already nearing retirement age when I first encountered him, he was a relatively short man, with a stocky build and graying hair. Wire-rimmed glasses sat on the nose of his rather square face. He became more familiar to me than any of my other professors, because of the multiple classes I took from him…History of Western Civilization (Part A), Medieval England, Medieval Europe…I think there were one or two more, but I can’t remember the titles anymore.
Dr. Parker lectured at the speed of light. I could barely keep up with him in my notes, and only because I learned to leave all the articles (“the”, “an”, etc) and vowels out of my words. (Made for some interesting deciphering around exam time.)
He held a deep respect for his students and their time. Unlike other professors, who might take weeks or even months to grade an essay or exam, if you turned in an essay or book report or test on a Friday, Dr. Parker had them graded and handed them back to you on Monday. He said if his students could turn in their work on time, then the least he could do is spend his weekend grading them and return them in a timely manner.
His love for his subject constantly shone through. Occasionally he’d have a grudge with a particular historical figure. I remember in at least all three of the above-named classes, somehow St. Bernard of Clairvaux came up. Dr. Parker’s voice always deepened to a growl when he spoke of Bernard’s intolerance and arrogance. Yet oddly, there was always a twinkle in the blue eyes behind the glasses while he growled. Did he bear a reluctant, unspoken respect for Bernard? Or had he simply developed a kind of affection even for the “villains” of the era he had devoted his teaching career to…much as an author might develop a love-hate relationship with the “villain” she creates for a book?
When I was growing up, the public school system was a sad wasteland for information about the Middle Ages. The time period had always intrigued me, and I became particularly interested in it during my high school years. (Mostly through reading the World Book Encyclopedia and Thomas B. Costain’s series on the Plantagenets.) After this long dearth of being left mostly on my own to scrabble crumbs of information on the subject where I could, Dr. Parker made the era come alive for me. As I said in my dedication, he “fed my history-hungry soul”, and he did it with an infectious passion for his subject, and with humor and wit that left my spirits soaring when I walked away at the end of a lecture. When I began studying for a master’s of library science at the end of my bachelor degree studies, I actually found myself feeling “homesick” for Dr. Parker’s classes!
Sadly, he never knew how much I enjoyed his classes, how much I respected and appreciated him. Why? Because I was so excruciatingly shy in those days, that I never had the courage to walk up to him and tell him, “Thank you.” Far too many years later, I tried to track him down. I obtained a retirement address for him from the University of Arizona, and wrote him a letter, belatedly expressing my deep gratitude for the gift he had given me. The letter was returned, “Address Unknown.” It is quite possible that he has passed away after all these years, and my gratitude comes too late.
I hope that in the “next life”, I will have an opportunity to see him again, and that this time I will have the courage to express what’s in my heart. Without all that he taught me, and the love with which he taught it, I may well never have written Loyalty’s Web, or any of it’s prequels and sequels. And so, until that day comes, I dedicate my first published book to the teacher who opened the vistas of medieval history to me, with passion, wit, and a twinkle in his eye.