In a very unexpected way I found out that my peds professor and friend, Ms. Wolfe, had died last November. Her friendship was a major force in my life. I hope you have a friend like her, who is a real encourager and steady example of a well-lived life.
It was a modest-sized office, yet still intimidating, and each square inch was filled with the personality of its gray-haired professor. On that fall day in 1976 I had been called in for an appointment with the faculty member who would become my research adviser. I was just thankful for summer to be over because I had narrowly passed the daunting Human Anatomy and Physiology class with Dr. Jeffries. Yes, thankful, because halfway through the class I had been failing.
The professor discussed my classwork and progress to date, then took a dramatic pause before remarking, “I see that you earned a ‘C’ in your A & P class.” Another pause. Ms. Wolfe looked at me straight on, then set me on the path to enlightenment, “You won’t be earning any more ‘C’ grades, will you?”
She remained an inquirer throughout her life, even with people who were not her assigned pupils. One night I returned home from a meeting and my husband passed along the message that Ms. Wolfe had called. He told her I was at an “SI” study group and she asked him if he knew what “SI” meant. Like any long-suffering spouse of a pediatric occupational therapist, yes, he was very familiar with the term “Sensory Integration.”
Ms. Wolfe and I kept up our snail mail correspondence for many years and, although her messages were brief, she frequently included responses to my previous notes that encouraged me to try new ideas, consider novel activities and to increase my depth of knowledge of subjects we both enjoyed. I might pen a breezy description of my sitting outside on summer evenings, watching the birds, and she would write back with the name of a suggested birding journal, one with a more objective, scientific slant than the glossy ones I might usually flip through. In a very positive way I felt like she saw me as a person who was capable of becoming a better student of life, one who would never lose the potential for learning and growth.
To have her as a friend felt like you had someone who not only cared about you but a fellow traveler who was by your side, lightly supporting your elbow to encourage you to keep going, to imagine and try new adventures of all kinds. Each time I collected the mail and saw her striking block print on the envelope I knew I was in for a treat, first with her lovely watercolor sketch of a bird and then in reading her message inside. Isn’t it amazing that a person can do this by simply writing a letter to someone, that caring can be perceived by holding a small, hand-painted card and reading words that start in the heart, take form in the brain and are scribed by our hands?
I’m thankful that Ms. Wolfe--my friend, Eleanor--was my mentor for life as an OT. For her part in teaching so many of us the skills we needed for the job of living.
Statue from campus of the Medical College of Virginia, now Virginia Commonwealth University.