Sunday, February 17, 2013

Patsy Lewis: A Friend Who Never Failed Us

From today's Times and News-Star

I fell for Patsy Lewis not long after I failed out of college.

She was Dean of Admissions for more than 20 years, including in 1979, when the Louisiana Tech administration could not find a pulse on my grade-point average. It was to Mrs. Lewis’ office you limped when things like this happened. You begged there, in academic purgatory, for another shot.

In the newspaper 15 years ago, I wrote about that day:

“She asked – I’ll never forget it – if I had thought I was going to learn college work by osmosis. I told her I wasn’t sure because I didn’t know what osmosis meant.”

She told me that, in my case, it meant I had a long way to go.

Her instruction: Don’t miss class. Sit up front. Do what you’re told. Simple enough. But it was the way she said it, the way she looked at you. Something. She was the perpetual Homecoming Queen, the one you had a crush on when you were 8 and she was 18. Once you met her, you didn’t want to disappoint her.

I had no academic woes after that. Dozens and dozens of others have the same story. She not only got many of the great unwashed into college, but she kept us there. I know we’re not supposed to care so much what others think of us, but you really wanted Mrs. Patsy to know who you were. You knew she really did care, and if she felt you were shortchanging yourself, she’d let you know that too. She could say a lot with only a look. She understood the elegance of brevity.

I tell you this I went to Mrs. Patsy’s funeral last month. It was sad because so many will miss her but it was not unexpected and it was not deflating. Instead, hundreds of people came on that Saturday morning, each with a personal story of how she inspired, mothered, coached-up, disciplined or loved us toward a goal. She was a coach’s wife for more than 50 years, and row after row of athletes who had put on shoulder pads never or neckties seldom in the past 30 and 40 years were shaved, dressed, clean and sharp, a testament to a woman who was their mom away from home.

Besides enough lettermen to have a good scrimmage, two other distinct groups were in the church that morning: one, the teachers and administrators she’d shepherded, and two, her longtime Sunday school classmates, a good-looking group whose team anyone would be lucky to be on. When I moved back to Ruston four years ago, one of the first cards I got in the mail was from Mrs. Patsy, handwritten, welcoming me to church. She never left a wounded soldier on the field.

Mrs. Patsy was loyal, dependable, prepared, proper: I’d have printed something similar before she died, but she’d have felt it “most inappropriate.” She was stealthy.

Many champions were at her funeral, but none had ever seen anything to match the courage she displayed in her fourth quarter, the grace with which she both prepared for her passing and tolerated the cancer. The last time I saw her was Christmas Eve in church, thin but beautiful, her handsome family beside her. She loved them the most, but she loved us all in a very close way. She always made us feel “a part of.” I am grateful, blessed, so lucky, to have had a friend like her.