Brother Robert Smith
Brother Robert Smith died on September 12, 2006. I've been so busy that I only recently found out. It appears many people thought I already knew. Of course, I knew it wouldn't be long, but I would not be the first of his pupils to say that I've always a deep suspicion Brother Robert would never leave this earth. Aerodynamically designed to exhibit Newton's First law, many of us believed "Bro. Ro" as he was often affectionately known as, was a permanent fixture on this earth. So needless to say, though I was well prepared for such an eventuality, I also was schocked to the point of tears that someone I loved so dearly had left this earth.
In just a brief Googling of Bro. Ro's death, one can quickly surmise this was no ordinary man. He made a dramatic impact on the people he came in contact with.
Dr. Jose Yulo states:
After sixteen years at the helm, he journeyed to Annapolis, Maryland, and soon became one of St. John's College's most respected and influential tutors. Even among the august faculty at St. John's, Bro. Robert held place all his own. He deftly practiced his patient, yet uncompromising socratic method, enabling many students to descend unscathed yet humbled from their own Mt's Olympus. All the while, he provided a moral ethos of decency and kindness, gifts essential to softening the socratic's more pointed tendencies. I will always remember and be grateful for the times where he was giving of his time and insight. R.I.P.Brother Donald Mansir reflects:
“Brother Robert was one of the most influential of the Brothers in the curriculum at Saint Mary’s College,” said Brother Donald Mansir, chair of the Bishop John S. Cummins Institute and teacher in the Saint Mary’s Integral Program. “A true son of Saint La Salle, a friend to hundreds of students, and an inspiration to many of the greatest minds of the last century, Brother Robert will be terribly missed."What many people might not realize is that Brother Robert is one of the secrets of the vitality of Western Civilization. I kid you not. Go to Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lazard, or any such monolithic investment bank and you'll hear people at the very highest echelons of power whisper fond memories of conversations with Brother Robert. Take a trip to to Columbia Univ., Princeton Univ., Oxford or Chicago, and you'll hear the very tops of these institutions whisper regrets about Brother Robert's passing. All this from a man who seemed shorter than he really was, balder than he seemed, and more concerned with helping any old student than with getting his book published next month.
St. John's College, apparently, is forced to have two memorial services for Bro. Ro, one this weekend and one on Nov. 11th. I hope to be at both. But let me tell you why I hope that...
Brother Robert completely and utterly changed my life, as he has done for so many. His kindness, gentleness, and respectful style were a model of how to turn boys (and girls for that matter) into free men (and women). His ability to correct illogical, distasteful, or uncivilized rhetoric in a school where open-ended, no boundary discussions were as essential as air to fire completely upended today's popular notions of how to deal with unbridled intellectual curiosity. He corrected without any sting, molded without any force, shaped without any design.
Were it not for Bro. Ro, I would never have experienced the Orthodox religion in any real way. For those that truly know me, this is obviously a rather important statement in my life. One summer Bro. Ro invited me to attend a retreat with him at a Greek Orthodox monestary. The memory of that retreat stays fresh in my mind each and every day. Of course, what combined it into the ever powerful moment it has come to mean for me was his constant discussion with me about iconography. He collected them. He had become an expert on them. And his thoughts infused within me and helped solidify what would come to be one of my most fondly held beliefs.
Bro. Ro also taught me Greek. Well, that isn't completely true, two others were my tutors and "instructed" me in Greek. But I never really got it until I started translating for Bro. Ro. I just had a great deal of confidence when I was him. Confidence to be completely wrong, but enough love of learning to continue trying no matter what the result. Ha! Thinking back on all that makes me laugh. We must have sounded like brain damaged ancient Greeks to Bro. Ro. But we had a joyous time doing so, and we all came away with greater proficiency, greater appreciation, and most importantly, greater respect for the thoughts the Byzantine poets than any classics major could ever hope to have.
Spending an evening with Bro. Ro, eating good food, drinking excellent wine, reading great books and viewing fine art, all while probing his mind for clues while he encouraged you to probe your own. This should be the education of all, luckily, it was an education which I was able to partake in for a time.
As those Johnnies out there reading this already know, Rabelais would not be Rabelais were it not for Bro. Ro. A number of quotes come to mind, and I'm sure he'd appreciate that I can't narrow it down to just one, so here are my favorite two...
When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink.
And of course,
Tell the truth and shame the devil.
God bless Bro. Ro, and thank you Heaven for allowing a few of us the moments to spend with him. For anyone wanting to speak with me about Bro. Ro, I'll be in Annapolis, MD over the weekend and hopefully again on the 11th. See you there.