On Oct. 8, 2008, Bill Glavin shared this advice with the students in his critical writing course: when you write a profile about a person, you have to believe in that person. You have to know what makes them tick, what drives them, and you have to find what he called "the essence" of them.
I believe this about professor Glavin: as a teacher, mentor and friend, he found his way into the hearts of thousands and we are lucky to have known him.
He came to Syracuse University in 1973, leaving behind a Good Housekeeping staff who had begged him to stay. Luckily for us, he ignored their pleas and pursued a job that I think he knew he was meant for.
He taught with wisdom and passion. In preparation for the first class he ever taught at Newhouse, he said he wrote down everything he knew about magazines on a pad of paper. He sat in front of the class, put his head down, and began to read from the list. When he finished reading, he looked up, expecting the 80-minute class period to be over. Only 30 minutes had passed. He dismissed the students, knowing he had plenty of room to grow. I had the privilege of sitting in his class 37 years later, and I can assure you he most certainly did.
He always put his students first. When a generous alumna and her family established the Glavin Magazine Lab, the Newhouse School hosted a classy reception in his honor. Alumni and industry legends traveled to Syracuse to celebrate him and thank him for his contribution to Newhouse and to the magazine world. As my friends and I discussed our surprise that they gave us real glasses instead of plastic, he approached us, mumbling that he didn’t know why they were making such a big deal for him. He seemed more concerned that we got enough to eat than he did with the fact that the editor in chief of The New Yorker had come to speak on his behalf.
He made us laugh. When we heard his hoarse voice take on a sarcastic tone, we couldn’t help but join him as he poked fun at bad writing, celebrity scandals and campus events. "You’ll find out who your friends are on that day," he told us when we heard that classes would be held on Mayfest. "I’d never give you a test, but some will." Even his handouts made us smile. Number 16 on a list of writing tips he gave us reads, "Write about people. The demand for articles about penguins is limited."
He celebrated our successes and put our failures in perspective. "Don't worry about being rejected," he told me in an e-mail last November. "It is a way of life for magazine people, and besides, this says far more about the people producing the program than it does about you. You will do fine. You have real talent and desire, and they will carry you as far as you wish to go."
He showed us compassion when we faced loss and sadness. When I lost a friend, he told me it was OK to be sad and he reminded me to take care of myself. He said what we never expect to hear from our professors: "There are many things more important than school." A year later, I passed him in the hallway of Newhouse 3. He said hello, then stopped, turned around, and said "How are you, Tory?" I knew he really wanted to know and he would be there if my answer was anything less than "great."
He wanted us to be happy. At the end of his magazine writing course, he gave a "last lecture" with advice for our careers and our lives. Though he made his statements quickly and without pomp or circumstance, I knew his words would stay with me. "Do what makes you happy," he told us. "Your parents want you to be doctors or lawyers, but that's only because doctors and lawyers make money and they think money will make you happy. Do what makes you really happy and the people that love you will be happy."
Above all, he loved us. He came to Newhouse everyday, sometimes even on the weekends, so he could be there for us. He shared with us his passion for Harry Potter, Casablanca, fly fishing, the Red Sox, and Gay Talese’s story about Frank Sinatra having a cold. He took the time to sit with us, answer our questions, calm our fears, and share our excitement about good things to come.
I wish he were here to read this, green pen in hand, to give me advice on which words to use to tell his story. Newhouse already feels a little colder and a quieter without his presence, but he will never truly leave us.
We will think of him when we read, when we edit, when we write. We will hear his voice when we cross out dangling modifiers and newspaper non-sequiturs. We will remember his mischievous half-smile when we watch the next commercial for the Harry Potter theme park. We will think of his advice when we take jobs, leave jobs, and find jobs that truly make us happy.
And we will remember him when we need a reminder that we are loved.
Celebration of the life of late Newhouse Professor Bill Glavin
UPDATE: A celebration of Glavin's life, wit and wisdom organized by students in Newhouse's magazine journalism department was May 12 in Hendricks Chapel.
For updates and to join other students in remembrance see the Facebook page.
In typical Glavin fashion, his last provisions were for his students. Bill left a large part of his estate to the Newhouse School and the magazine department; he has established an endowment to make grants to students who need financial assistance to pursue summer internships in New York. He also wanted people to know that rather than flowers or memorials, the best way to remember him would be to join him in his efforts to continue to help the students who he devoted his life to teaching, advising, and mentoring.
If you are interested in contributing, please make a check out to:
Bill Glavin Endowed Internship Fund
The Newhouse School
Attn: Melissa Chessher
215 University Place
Syracuse NY 13244-2100
Or you can make a gift on line by following this hyperlink: http://campaign.syr.edu/
Be sure to mention the Glavin fund in the notes section.
The professor produced this video about one of his favorite passions.
Several of Glavin's students shared their well wishes at the annual Relay for Life event in April.