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From Prof and Friend, Jenny Wahl

October 2, 2006 at 8:49 am

At first, Ted was the guy near the back of the room who always wore a baseball cap and smelled faintly of chlorine. He didn’t say much but he seemed to be listening intently. When the time came for the first exam, I noticed Ted wasn’t wearing a cap and I teased him, “Hey, I didn’t know you had hair!” He laughed. What really struck me, however, was what happened after I handed back the exam. Ted came to my office and said, “I don’t think I deserved this grade.” At first, I was taken aback, after all, he’d gotten an A-, and I steeled myself for what came next. Then Ted said something I haven’t heard another student say: “I really shouldn’t have gotten such a good grade.” I had to laugh, we then went over his exam and I reassured him that he had great intuition, which every economist wants, and that we could figure out the rigorous part together. This was when I realized how intense Ted was, how much he wanted to grasp things.

Ted came to my office many times that term. He laughed about how large his calf was, but I urged him to go get it checked out. When he found out the bad news, he came to tell me that he would have to leave campus before the end of the term and asked if we could figure out a way to complete his work in my class. I was open to anything; I just wanted him to focus on getting well. So I suggested that he could just go with the grade he had, but he really wanted to demonstrate that he knew the material. Instead he came back in a couple of days and took an oral exam. I wasn’t easy on him – I knew he wouldn’t want that – but he did a great job. Even with all that he was facing, Ted stayed engaged. He simply wouldn’t just let things happen to him; he took charge wherever he could.

Whenever he came to campus during the next several terms, he came by to chat. One day, I walked into the econ department lounge and saw a kid sitting on the couch. I said hi and went on toward my office. The kid got up and followed me, smiled broadly, and said, “Hey, you didn’t recognize me without hair! – or eyebrows!” Who could it be but Ted? Despite chemo, pain, and fear staring him in the face, Ted could still joke around. He kept his spirits up, and he lifted everyone else with him.

The last time I saw Ted was about a week and a half before he died. Susannah Ottaway, Bill North, and I went down to Chicago to see Ted. We didn’t talk much about his illness; instead, we discussed Chicago politics and the common reading for week one – a graphic novel. When I said I really didn’t quite understand what a graphic novel was, Ted said, “I’ve got one upstairs; let me show it to you.” Even to the end, Ted was thoughtful toward his friends and fully engaged in the world around him. But when Ted came downstairs, he couldn’t breathe. I don’t think I really understood until that moment how sick Ted was. I should have been the one to go upstairs. But he wouldn’t have let me – that was Ted, always looking out for others.

His body betrayed him in the end, but he is free of it now. Ted’s large and generous spirit remains with us. He is the most alive person I know.

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