I can’t remember when I was more saddened by an email. The news of Dr. Milton Glick’s death was sudden and elicited the feeling I get when a much younger person dies. I didn’t know him well—having met and interviewed him just a few times—but I liked him, and I rarely heard anyone say a bad thing about him. I know that I, and many others in the community at the University of Nevada, Reno and the larger community of Northern Nevada, felt that he had a lot of living left to do, and we depended on his future leadership.
The mood was predictably somber as his students and friends shuffled into Lawlor Events Center on Monday night. People stopped in the entryway to write personal remembrances and condolences to the family before passing into the hallways surrounding the main floor, pausing to safety-pin small blue ribbons onto their chests and to pick up candles.
As always at a memorial for someone who has died, I was struck not by the personal anecdotes from people who knew the deceased, but by other things: The sense of belonging to a community that shows when human beings come together to mourn, by the powerlessness of people in the face of the unknowable. In this instance, I was struck by the idea that many of the people in attendance had never before received instruction in their own mortality. I think Dr. Glick, who became the 15th president of UNR in 2006, might have been thankful for this opportunity to further instruct the student body and his associates in how to live an admirable life.
Most human beings have a tough time talking about death, particularly when the wounds left by a passing are freshly raw. I guess it’s part of our humanity to focus on the good, to probe that missing tooth relentlessly, as though we can gain acceptance and understanding and incorporate the loss into our sense of selves: This is me without my mom, without my friend, without my university president.
I know that many people who read this column won’t have personally experienced the human loss of Milton Glick, but I also know that almost everyone within reach of this newspaper will eventually feel the loss of the tireless university leader. There are decisions being made in Carson City, almost as I write this, that would have gone a different direction had one of higher education’s chief advocates been on hand to make his points. And as is often the case where death is concerned, fear is close behind.
There were many things said at the vigil before the lighting of the candles and the 73 seconds of silence to remember and honor each year of Milton Glick’s life. There were a few stories that touched me that I’ll remember as though they were my own, but I think it was Provost Marc Johnson who was best able to illustrate the man. He said Glick’s priorities for the university were clear: First, teach students; second, focus on research and graduate education; third, be involved in the community, which springs from the application of knowledge gained in research. He followed that with a list of Glick’s personal commitments: excellence, access, diversity, honesty, integrity and high-quality scholarship.
As the smoke from a thousand extinguished flames rose into the rafters of Lawlor Events Center, I was also struck by another quote that was attributed to the man, replying to some controversy the university was involved in: “Our job is not to make ideas safe for students; our job is to make students safe for ideas.”
Maybe that will be Dr. Milton D. Glick’s true legacy.