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Diane Waterman: Professor’s lessons were not limited to English

Recently, I learned of the passing of Mark Schechner, a longtime English professor at the University at Buffalo. He represents an outstanding and unique generation of academics. I feel that I was privileged to know him, and you may be surprised to learn why, in a way you probably were not expecting.

As a graduate of the UB English Department, Schechner will forever hold a special memory, one that can both make me chuckle and affirm my faith in humanity. That is because I will never forget the day he came to my rescue in the UB North Campus parking lot and helped me to unpark my van.

That’s the kind of person he was – a kind person. He cared about people.

Back in the day when gas was cheaper, I was driving a van that was way too big for a short person like me, and I never claimed to have earned a medal for being a good driver, and even less as a car parker. Let’s just say they would never hire me to do valet parking.

Parking was scarce at the Amherst Campus, and the spaces were somewhat tight for the large vessel I was maneuvering. I had managed to wedge the van in the space in so crooked a fashion that I had no idea how I would back it out again without hitting the vehicle next to mine.

As I stood there considering ways to untangle this mess, along came Schechner with his daughter, Sara, in tow. He recognized me as one of the English majors from the department.

“I don’t know what I am going to do,” I blurted out with embarrassment. He was a lot taller than I, and confidently surveyed the situation, assuring me that he was an expert car parker. What did he mean?

The next thing I knew, he took control of the situation. He sat in the driver’s seat of my vehicle, asked me to sit on the passenger side, and he instructed Sara to sit in the rear passenger seat.

I wanted to crawl under the seat. In a few minutes, Schechner had calmly backed out the vehicle and put it back properly into its parking space with military precision. At that moment, I wanted to crawl under the seat. Then, he and his daughter matter-of-factly got out of the vehicle and proceeded on their way to Clemens Hall, where the English Department is located, like this sort of thing happens every day. You think?

Honestly, I can’t remember if I was on the way to class that day or leaving campus. It left me wondering what had just happened. Any time after that when I saw Schechner, I have no doubt he recalled helping this student get out of a scrape.

Years passed, and I studied writing in the UB Graduate English Program. When I took an independent study in writing for publications, the reviews Schechner wrote as a guest reviewer for The News were presented to me as an example of what I should aspire to when writing in this genre.

That proved to be a tall order for a short person like me. I guess we all have our shortcomings, as I was not sure if I could leap up to the next level.

This is the best way I can memorialize Mark Schechner. Not only had he achieved a level of excellence in his profession, but he also was not too proud to help people when they were in a bind. That’s a lesson or two I learned the hard way. I will truly miss Schechner, and I know that his family will, too, because I saw firsthand the character of this man. He certainly deserved the respect of his colleagues and the many students he taught and guided over the years.