Brian Coatney continues his series on teachers who made a difference to him. We hope that some of our readers will be inspired to send us their remembrances.
Taking a religion course at a state university may not be a devotional experience, but it might be inspirational and highly educational. My junior year at the UNC, Chapel Hill, I signed up for “Introduction to the Old Testament” with a legendary professor in the twilight of his long and marvelous career. His name was Dr. Bernard Boyd. Class met in one of the older buildings on the quad, and in an auditorium seating about 150. But once you were there and seated, most likely you forgot about the size of the class and honed in on Dr. Boyd.
He was neither large nor small, and being just over age 60, he was remarkably distinguished, in a suit neither dowdy nor flashy but smart and fitting the carriage of a man without an ounce of fat who would light his pipe at times as he walked back and forth on the hardwood surface down front. His manners were impeccable but not stuffy or formal. His gaze was intense but not stern, yet he could radiate incredible warmth and passion, and his lectures had many rhythms and tones.
English: The Old Well and McCorkle Place at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
With each text and issue that arose, he would present two to perhaps half dozen rival views on the text. He would let the drama and suspense go on, while we wondered, “Is this the one he favors?” or “Is he saving his view until last or is it number three?” Finally, he would pronounce what he thought the most accurate view was. You didn’t have to agree, but you needed to have taken thorough notes because his tests were all objective. Yes, they were all objective, not an opinion to be found.
Old testament window (Photo credit: Henry McLin)
I enjoyed Dr. Boyd so much that I took another Old Testament course from him and also “Introduction to the New testament.” I wrote him a note once thanking him for the courses and expressing my deep appreciation. In those days, one didn’t just go up and talk to professors. I was shocked and elated when my mother wrote and told me that Dr. Boyd had written her a note thanking her.
Three other experiences come to mind among many. Aboard ship as a new ensign in the navy, I soon learned how down one can feel out in the world away from the environment of education. I wrote him and poured out all kinds of frustrations about my job and my faith. To my amazement, he wrote back a short letter in which he didn’t take the center stage but affectionately wrote out the verse “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 RSV).
The next two experiences are painful ones. A couple of years after graduating, I remembered that I had lied to Dr. Boyd several times. I had signed papers on the honor system saying that I had done reading that I had not done. I wrote him and told him the lies. In a fatherly way that I didn’t deserve, he forgave me.
The last experience came when one of my dorm mates and close friends called me five years after graduating to tell me that Dr. Boyd had died of a sudden heart attack before a lecture he was to give. It still moves me now, decades later, to remember it.
I don’t know if smoking is allowed in heaven, but if so, I will be elated to see that pipe light up and the lectures resume. We’ll have more to think about and study than ever!