Bill Little commentary: Mike Quinn - dean, professor, and friend
It poured Saturday morning, and still they filled the big church on the corner to say goodbye to Mike Quinn.
He wasn't a President, though he covered them. He wasn't a star athlete or coach, but he admired them. He wasn't a publisher or an editor, but he taught them. And he had bunches of years on the young people he worked with, yet he touched them.
Mike Quinn represented everything that is good about a college professor.He understood the basic premise that a teacher will be measured, not for what he or she knows, but for what their students have learned.
Quinn taught journalism at The University of Texas and served in various administrative capacities within the UT Communications School for 37 years.He died last Sunday after a battle with an incurable disease. He was 76.
He was a tremendous Longhorn fan, and he was a trusted advisor to all of us and he even took time to serve as a member of the UT Women's Athletics Council.
When Brian Davis, who handles the academic services for all UT football players, caught up with Mack Brown last week when he briefly stopped in his office from recruiting trips, Davis told the Texas coach of the death of the former Assistant Dean of the College of Communications.
"He really helped our kids," Brian said.
That is the one word that will always stick with me when I think of Mike Quinn.
When Quinn retired in 2003, one of his former students, Jeff Cohen, the editor of the Houston Chronicle, had gotten Brown to give a Longhorn football jersey to Mike. But instead of the traditionally popular numbers of players, such as "32," or "11" or "10," he had Quinn's office phone number put on the jersey.
"Everybody has called that number for help so many times," Jeff joked, "it's about time we retired the number."
He was kidding, but he was absolutely on target for this man who first came to The University of Texas as a student in 1953.
There is no way to count, or even estimate, the number of students in the last 37 years who have come to me with a question or a problem, and my first advice was always, "Go see Mike Quinn."
When Earl Campbell came back to Texas to get his degree while playing his way into the NFL Hall of Fame, Mike Quinn was the guy who helped guide him through the sometimes maze-like degree requirements.
Whether it was changing majors, finding the right courses, or whatever troubles a student faced, Quinn was always there to help (there's that word again) guide them.Hundreds of journalism students...nine Pulitzer Prize winners...leaders in the communications field and those who chose other directions were all touched by Quinn. In that scary time as they neared completion of their education and were headed into the cold world of the working class, it would be Quinn whom they would call for advice, and in a lot of cases, a reference.
That, more than anything, fit what Mike did.
He opened doors for people.
If you took the word "help," you actually could take each of the letters and say something about who Mike Quinn was.
We'll hold the "H" for a minute, but let's take the rest of them.
"E" would be for "even." Whether it was a high powered summit meeting regarding a crisis on campus when he was in charge of UT News and Information and did the same job for the UT System, Quinn's would be the reason, the calming perspective which allowed people to step back and look at all of the options.
"L" is easy. That's for "loving." You couldn't do what Mike Quinn did, for thousands of kids over 37 years, without really caring about people. However badly you had screwed up, he never blamed or beat, he simply tried to figure where you went from there.
"P" is for positive. That, too, was a critical part of his advice.He never gave up on anybody.He would offer suggestions for direction in life, and when that didn't take, he came back with another. He never quit trying to help. Somehow, he always found the good.
And that brings us back to the beginning, the letter "H."
For Mike Quinn, the "H" was for "human."
In a world where there is a danger to becoming engrossed with the importance of self, Mike was absolutely real, and absolutely without pretense. He could laugh, and he laughed best at himself. But I never heard him ridicule, or make fun of anybody.
I still expect my phone to ring, and the voice on the other end to say, "Coach Little, This is Quinn."
More important, I keep wishing I could pick up the phone one more time and dial a number and get the answer "Quinn," when yet another student needed an advocate in a world where those who serve like Mike should be celebrated.
They said that Mike knew that Texas won the Rose Bowl, and was National Champion, and they sang the Eyes of Texas at the close of the memorial service.
All of that matters to those of us who knew him.
But to those of you who didn't, here is why Mike Quinn matters:
He understood that a university is not made of bricks and mortar, it is made of people. And he got that its job is multi-faceted.
Most of all, it is to educate, and education for Mike Quinn's students went far beyond the classroom where he taught the spirit, and the ethics, of journalism. But Mike never stopped there.He embraced the college experience for himself, and for his students. He celebrated every success of the university, whether it was in athletics or in academics.
In his time with the UT System, he was part of the birth of many of the components beyond UT Austin, and he saw unprecedented construction of athletic facilities here at the Austin campus.
People loved Mike Quinn because he cared about them, and he always put their needs before his.
Mike Quinn is important for a lot of reasons. For the doors he opened, for the teaching, for the friendship. But most of all, because he was what all of us in higher education should be...a gate keeper and a pathfinder, where lives are molded, so hopes and dreams can prevail.