One-Yard Wonders projects

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Memorial for a Mentor

On April 12, 2012, I checked email and saw I had a message from Barbara Mack -- my academic adviser, journalism professor and newspaper adviser when I was editor of the Iowa State Daily. 

The subject line of her message: You're in Des Moines?!?!

Her message read: One of my favorite people and favorite students is now working six blocks from me! I didn't know! And I'd love to see you! Available for a drink after work one of these days? Barbara Mack 288-XXXX

She sent that nine days after I'd given birth to my beautiful Violet. Obviously, we hadn't been in touch for quite awhile. I distinctly remember the turmoil of feelings her email created: excitement that the great Barbara Mack still remembered me and wanted to see me, fear that I would have to tell the great Barbara Mack that I had given up journalism and was working in public relations, panic at the thought of discussing my career with her and tremendous pride that Barbara Mack said I was one of her favorite students.

Now don't get the wrong idea here, I was one of hundreds of favorites. Barbara Mack was a professor for 26 years and had many, many students she favored every year. But the fact that I was one of them, is something I will never take for granted. 

I loved Barbara and was afraid of Barbara and was always in total awe of her.

Everything about her was big – her voice, her body, her attitude, her presence, her laugh, her smile, her heart, her compassion, her loyalty, her pride and her stories. Especially her stories. Man, that woman told the best stories. And she always told them with all-out enthusiasm and lots of cuss words and big gestures and twinkling eyes. When she talked, everyone shut up and listened. Every one. I've never met anyone else who had such command over a room and such a powerful personal presence. She was awesome.

After I got her email, I wrote her back but then deleted it and didn't send it. Then I tried writing her again, but ended up never sending it. I really wanted to see her, but I wanted to wait a little while. With a newborn and the boys and being on maternity leave, I wanted to wait until fall to see her when I was back at work and could join her for a drink. I wanted to be on my A game.

After a few weeks, I forgot about it. I never called her. I never said, "Hey Barbara!!! It's SO good to hear from you! Of course I want to get together, when are you free?" Every once in awhile I'd think about her and my college days, and I'd plan what I would say when I saw her. I tried to look at my life through her eyes and find the best things to tell her about. I was excited to explain my new career as a content strategist, to tell her about my kids and to show her Mazy's food blog. Barbara was The Grumpy Gourmet food reviewer for The Des Moines Register, so I knew she would get a huge kick out of his blog. 

So I was slowly planning my big reunion with Barbara, unbeknownst to her. 

Then one day a couple weeks ago, I was at the dentist office watching Bo get his teeth checked and my cell phone vibrated in my pocked. I opened it and read: "Barbara Mack was found dead this morning."

I closed my phone. Looked around in disbelief, and then opened it again to reread the message. What? How? What? Oh my god. Oh no. How terrible. How can she be dead? Oh damn. I never emailed her back! I never told her how much I appreciated everything she'd done for me, how much I owed her for getting me out of trouble all those times in college, getting me internships, being my reference for my first few jobs, and all the other favors I thought I had a lifetime to repay. Barbara Mack can't be dead!

But she is. And the world has lost a really loud, sassy and wonderful woman. Goodbye Professor Mack. Thank you for everything. I will never forget it. 


  1. Oh Keesia - don't you hate when something like this happens and you let life get in the way of telling someone something, seeing them, etc. So many times when I read your blog I always think I'll comment "later"...or call, see, or write people - then it's too late. Just like I have been meaning to call your Mom - and haven't done it. This woman sounded wonderful..good lesson for us all. Have a great day. Love you

  2. Yes, Cindy, I totally agree! At her memorial service yesterday, her husband talked about how Barbara was famous for her hugs. Huge, giant, all encompassing hugs that made you feel like a million dollars. He talked about his last night with Barbara and how he missed the opportunity to hug her and how he would regret that for the rest of his life. It was a really good reminder: don't hold back, don't wait until later, take every opportunity to express your love and gratitude. It was really inspiring and I'm going to do it!