"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

23 August 2014

Dr. Richard Cornelius, RIP

When Dr. Richard Cornelius announced his retirement, I was the one privileged to find myself with a position in the English Department at Bryan College.  I did not take his place:  no one possibly could have.  He had been the Department chair for 30 years; he was a treasure, an icon.  

My seniors that first semester did not want me as their teacher.  A fierce love of and loyalty to Dr. Cornelius kept them from allowing themselves, for awhile, to warm to a stranger; they had wanted him to teach their final classes in the major.  Over the last 15 years, I've heard from so many graduates before my time who loved him, as a teacher, a mentor, a friend.

I know him as a gracious and witty Southern gentleman who gave me all his course handouts and syllabi, and who, with good will, wished us success even when we changed some age-old academic traditions of the department.  I too have watched things that I established and directed change under new leadership, and it can be hard to let go.  If it was for Dr. Cornelius, he never let on to us.

I will let others tell the stories of his teaching and his attention to detail and his unique ways of challenging his students.  I've heard so many of them, but I never experienced them.  I can only say that he was a brilliant, humble, and kind man who made me feel that I had found a home and was welcome in it, even as he was moving toward its edges.  While I did not have a great deal of interaction with him, I always felt his friendship and lovingkindness; I always knew I had only to ask and he would offer advice and wisdom.

His legacy permeates our department even now.  His name comes up regularly within the department and from our alumni.  We may do some things differently on the surface (no more MEG test!), but we do all things with the heart and vision of Richard Cornelius:  love for our students, love for our Lord, and the instilling of a desire for excellence at every level.  

I am grateful for his influence, much greater than it seems on the surface.  I am sad for his loss and glad that I will see him again someday and know him better than I had the opportunity to in this world.  May the Lord comfort his family and friends with many lovely memories and with eternal hope, and may we never forget to live his vision.