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?!?!
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.