The teacher’s life lessons will remain

Published 7:24 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

“Teacher,” I would say with laughter in a high-pitched voice as I eased my way down into that chair in front of his desk. I’d inch it forward, place my stuff down next to me and make eye contact as if I could hardly wait to say what was on my mind.

“Yes, student?” he would respond with a chuckle and a slight shake of the head.

And from that point, there really was no telling, in his mind anyway, just what I was in there for.

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But whether I was asking for help on an assignment, giving him a play-by-play of the articles I was writing, trying to persuade my way into a higher grade or just talking his ear off about something silly, Professor Chris Warden always made me feel like I was the most important person on earth when I was in that chair.

That was something that happened more times than I could probably count on my two hands every day my last year of college. And even though I’m no longer in school, I’m still not sure I really can believe I will never be in that chair again.

This Sunday, my favorite professor died in UAB’s hospital. It was not a surprise to me this happened because “Prof,” as we all called him, suffered from hemophilia and had undergone surgery earlier that week.

But, when I saw my friend’s name “Emily” show up on the caller id and answered with a excited “hey,” expecting it was almost time for our planned dinner, I wasn’t ready for the teary voice I heard on the other end. I immediately knew something was wrong with Prof, but I didn’t know in fact it was a bitter end to what had been wrong with him his whole life.

I remember winning an award just before graduation, and he told me his first impression of me. When I first walked in the office of the Tropolitan, Troy’s student newspaper, he saw me as a “wide-eyed freshmen.”

And, he was certain I wouldn’t last.

I’m not sure if it was my incessant questions that showed him I had the desire to learn or if it was simply that I had a knack for writing, but his mind quickly changed as he promoted me to news editor after a semester.

Many people don’t know the next part of the story.

There was a time, half way through my sophomore year, I started to lose my way. I didn’t like writing anymore, and I liked school even less.

I marched into Professor Warden’s office, sat down abruptly in his chair, and told him I was going to leave school.

The rest of the conversation is somewhat of a blur, but I walked away from it remembering his words: “Holli, you’re just too good at this to quit.”

I wasn’t sure for two more years after that I really believed him, but every time I went back with the same, “I want to quit school” speech, I always walked away convinced to stay.

I know it must have been a proud day for him once it finally clicked for me. I imagine it was like a sense of pride a parent has after his child finally grasps a lesson he’s been trying to get across for years. Professor Warden’s efforts were not made in vain.

But there’s much to be said about the time in between when I was wandering around like a lost child and discovering my greatest passion on earth.

For between that time, my teacher became so much more. He made his way from a professor whom I respected in the classroom, to a friend I would have a drink with, to well, family.

Our conversations transformed from newspaper jargon to real life issues, and our relationship extended beyond college.

There hasn’t been a week since I graduated I haven’t called him to ask him for professional advice or just to tell him a funny story, and I can’t imagine that not happening anymore.

The times I sat in that chair and called him “teacher” may be gone forever, but there won’t be a day that goes by, I won’t look up and talk to my “dad.”

Holli Keaton is a reporter with The Messenger. She can be reached at