During the many years I worked with the inimitable Dr. Paul Orser (’69, P ’01), two qualities in particular distinguished him to me.
The first was his absolutely wicked sense of humor; the second, his unwavering commitment to the success of students, alumni and his undergraduate alma mater, Wake Forest.
As to the first, I will never forget a certain phone call. Paul didn’t exactly embrace new technology, preferring instead the old-fashioned ways of communicating — by phone, or even better, face-to-face (as this improved the opportunities for body language.)
I can’t remember what he called about; I just remember he began the conversation by speaking in a thick Irish brogue. Once I righted myself in my chair and dabbed the tears of laughter, I realized it was St. Patrick’s Day. That was Paul. He was the “Reynolda Hallmark” of humor: blessed with the gift of wit for any situation or occasion.
As to the second distinction, his devotion to duty was exemplary as teacher, administrator, Dean of Freshmen and ultimately Associate Dean for Student Academic Initiatives. He could not take more seriously his job to teach, advise, encourage and — when the occasion called for it — deliver a wake-up call to a struggling student or a reassuring message to a concerned parent. An academic at heart with an undergraduate degree in biology and advanced degrees from Emory University, he believed mentoring was the high calling of every professor.
At Wake Forest Paul worked tirelessly to improve the first-year student’s experience by enhancing freshman orientation and shepherding the first-year seminar program into reality. His admiration for the institution was apparent as he advanced Wake Forest’s reputation in the nation’s capital, forging connections that ultimately resulted in the Wake Washington program that gives students the opportunity to spend a semester internship in Washington, D.C.
With his retirement this spring, the Reynolda Campus community will be absent a daily dose of wit and wisdom from a true Deacon — a gentleman who valued character and integrity above most anything else, with the possible exception of friendship.
He’d been known to partake of regular meals at K&W, but it wasn’t the food he enjoyed as much as the jolly camaraderie of his friends. “Friends are a cherished gift,” he said, during his “Last Lecture” delivered in April. “Nurture your friendships. On this universally acknowledged beautiful campus, look up, smile, and greet one another and especially greet strangers.”
My sense is that Paul never knew a stranger and that he has nurtured countless friendships with students, graduates, families and friends like me. No doubt these relationships will influence Wake Forest for years to come.
Relish retirement, my friend. And call me on St. Patrick’s Day.