Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lunch with 'Uncle Paul'

A smile crept onto my face the minute I saw the ol' professor alight from his car.

He was an enigma in the classroom, always challenging your statements, forever encouraging you to "think analytically," to quote a favorite phrase. But anybody who knows him will tell you that Paul Pinckney's greatest strength is his personal touch.

To put it simply, Paul cared about his students. He'd take time with you, invite you up to the library study to chat, offer advice about classes, books, girls and what to do with your life. He is an educator in the best sense of what that means.

We met for lunch this afternoon at Aubrey's in Powell. I smiled at the familiar speech patterns of his voice, my thoughts transported back nearly a decade, to the corner classroom in the Humanities building at UT. I did have to strain to hear him over the blaring '70s pop songs playing in the restaurant. What a disconnect it is to merge talk about history and politics with Maureen McGovern telling us at the top of her lungs that there's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the storm...

Anyway, Paul's doing well, despite some recent health problems. He and wife Margaret took recent trips to Charlotte to see family and to Memphis to see friends. He's teaching his Revolutions in World Perspective course at UT during the second summer term, says the Churchill course is more difficult to offer in the summer.

He takes a nap in the afternoons and watches "SportsCenter" with Margaret before eating dinner at 7:30. Sometimes he'll take a quick look at Chris Matthews and "Hardball" before heading to the table.

Paul worries about the Churchill myths that keep popping up in popular culture, even by those who should know better. (Evan Thomas in Newsweek is the latest example.) Yes, ol' Winston saw the Nazi threat early on. But he wasn't really the lone lion roaring at the gates. Not quite.

He thinks that Bush has been a great bust, sees the parallels between Bush's mistakes in Iraq with the Kennedy/Johnson mistakes in Vietnam. He still sings in his church choir, stays busy visiting friends and doing things with Margaret. He says he misses talking to young people on a regular basis.

And that's the thing about Paul Pinckney. At the end of the day, it always came back to his students. Overlook all that scholarly stuff, just forget about it for a moment. Paul Pinckney's greatest legacy lies in the lives he touched, in the way he could stir a student's soul describing the poignancy of the World War I memorial in France, or the horrible waste in Flanders Field.

He's a special soul, the embodiment of what a college professor should be, someone I'm quite proud to call a friend.

Thanks for lunch, Uncle Paul.

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