My Hero: Prof Larry McGehee

To me, Larry McGehee is Wofford College.

This morning, Rion called me and said “we were waking up in a world without Larry.” It still hasn’t hit me yet, but that’s tough. I’m not sure when it will hit me.

As a little bit of background, Larry McGehee was the quirky professor/teacher/friend/mentor/hero that you always see in the movies but never meet in real life. And when you did meet him, you never got past the sly grin and warm heart. His office was a safe haven for the misfits, troublemakers, rabble rousers, jocks, geeks, dorks, eggheads, frat boys, Bible thumpers and homecoming queens.

I’ve often wondered what the Kingdom of God might look like here on earth. Little did I know it was there in Larry’s upstairs office in the Papadopoulos Building. With images of Shaker art and pictures with students over the years (not to mention the books… all the books), his little office was not of this world.


Larry was known for his poignant yet whimsical writing as well as his madras jackets (especially among the students of his Religion 340 class of which I was honored to be a part):

One of my favorite sides of Larry was his interaction with students on Facebook. Up until the end, he was there with a tongue-in-cheek:

“Oct 10: Larry is notiicing that 80% of the Wofford students have more travel experience than Sarah Palin!”

I also loved Larry for his amazing ability to synthesize religion, politics and history. Beyond his SouthernSeen collection, nowhere is that more apparent than in these three Amazon reviews he did.

I traded emails with Larry just a few days ago after I found an 8 year old stack of emails between us that I had printed out. I had just moved to New Haven, CT to start my first year at Yale and wound up living across the street from where he and Betsy lived when they were in New Haven. Larry was the absolute reason I went to Yale. Those emails are absolute treasures. We both had a good laugh about them.

Larry passed on to me a number of things over the years between books, banners, ideas, optimisms and hugs. The one thing I’ll cherish the most is the knowledge that he was always there with a sly grin and open car door to a meal at Ike’s. He still is.

Love you much, Larry.

44 Replies to “My Hero: Prof Larry McGehee”

  1. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

    1. Voided From History | Sam Harrelson July 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      […] I’m still trying to reconcile Faulkner with my own existence at the behest of Larry McGehee. […]

      Reply

  2. Thanks, Lauren.Sure thing, Andy. I'd be honored.

    Reply

  3. I've been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back. The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry's Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn't his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you're ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can't remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.As I've thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I've realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it's that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn't preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can't imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he'd probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I'm likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

    Reply

    1. I nominate Sam's blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

      Reply

  4. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

  5. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

  6. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

  7. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

  8. I nominate Sam’s blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Lauren.
      Sure thing, Andy. I’d be honored.

      Reply

  9. I nominate Sam’s blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Lauren.
      Sure thing, Andy. I’d be honored.

      Reply

      1. I’ve been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back.

        The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry’s Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn’t his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you’re ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”

        I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.

        And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can’t remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.

        As I’ve thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I’ve realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it’s that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn’t preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can’t imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.

        Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he’d probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I’m likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

        Reply

  10. I nominate Sam’s blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Lauren.
      Sure thing, Andy. I’d be honored.

      Reply

  11. I nominate Sam’s blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

    Reply

    1. Thanks, Lauren.
      Sure thing, Andy. I’d be honored.

      Reply

  12. I’ve been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back.

    The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry’s Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn’t his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you’re ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”

    I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.

    And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can’t remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.

    As I’ve thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I’ve realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it’s that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn’t preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can’t imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.

    Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he’d probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I’m likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

    Reply

  13. I’ve been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back.

    The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry’s Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn’t his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you’re ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”

    I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.

    And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can’t remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.

    As I’ve thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I’ve realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it’s that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn’t preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can’t imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.

    Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he’d probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I’m likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

      Reply

  14. I’ve been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back.

    The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry’s Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn’t his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you’re ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”

    I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.

    And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can’t remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.

    As I’ve thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I’ve realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it’s that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn’t preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can’t imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.

    Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he’d probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I’m likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

    Reply

  15. This is a beautiful tribute, Sam.

    Reply

  16. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

    Reply

  17. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

    Reply

  18. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

    Reply

  19. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family’s lives. Liz McGehee

    Reply

  20. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family’s lives. Liz McGehee

    Reply

  21. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family’s lives. Liz McGehee

    Reply

  22. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family’s lives. Liz McGehee

    Reply

  23. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

    Reply

    1. I nominate Sam's blog as the central space to share our thoughts….How do you feel about that, Sam?

      Reply

      1. Thanks, Lauren.Sure thing, Andy. I'd be honored.

        Reply

    2. I've been thinking about Larry today, and I keep coming back to two things he said to me, once and many years ago, the other, frequently and as recently as a few months back. The first came during my final semester at Wofford. That term, my Thursday nights had an odd rhythm: from 3 until 7 or 8, I spent in Larry's Religion 340 seminar. About 6:30, I mentally checked out, consumed with the bacchanal that awaited. From 8 or 9 on, I drank. Heavily. Larry, a veteran teacher and a former fraternity boy himself, saw right through me. And he never confronted me about it; that wasn't his way. He dropped a hint, though, and one day, began a sentence with a prepositional phrase that remains burned into my brain: “Andy, when you're ready to really pursue the life of the mind….”I have no idea what followed. I was too consumed with the idea that, apparently, something called “the life of the mind” existed, and in a few months, I had already evinced the fact that I was not yet ready for it! And thus, my academic career began in earnest. I wanted to know what the hell he was talking about. And I wanted to prove to him that I could handle it.And yet, what I ultimately learned from Larry was not a lesson about hard work, or seriousness, or intellectual rigor, but a lesson about love. Larry McGehee loved as fully as anyone I know: his family, his students, history, literature, food, music, all of it. And though I can't remember the topic of our last conversation, I do remember how it ended: Larry said, “Love you,” and I repeated the words stiffly, uncomfortably. I know this because our conversations always ended this way; each time we talked, the words came a little more easily for me, but never with the ease that Larry offered them.As I've thought about Larry for the last few weeks, I've realized that the love Larry expressed for each of us and the deep and abiding concern for rigorous intellectual and academic pursuit were two distinct concerns, but in fact, facets of the same impulse. And if I learned anything from him, it's that a love of ideas and a love of those around you are the same thing. Larry taught me that the life of the mind didn't preclude a life outside the mind–a life rich in family, invested in community. For Larry, knowledge should be sought in service to others. Intellectual pursuit, he taught me, is invigorating, but it is really only of substance when we share those ideas with others, and when we listen to others (something he did so much better than I do). Inquiry should be like prayer, and the exchange of ideas a sort of communion: we should think hard about things, and our questions should push us beyond the regular limitations of understanding and closer to divine elements within ourselves. And we must not keep to ourselves rather, we should rejoice in the exchange of ideas and in the possibility that we might transcend the divide between the Self and the Other. When we do this–when we ask questions relentlessly, when we thrill in the pursuit of knowledge and the exchange of ideas, and when we begin to use those ideas to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us–we realize the best of ourselves. I can't imagine anything closer to the ideal of agape than that.Larry never seemed to far from the best of himself, and while he'd probably smack me upside the head for saying this, that makes him as a close to saintliness as I'm likely to encounter in my life. I will miss him.

      Reply

  24. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family's lives. Liz McGehee

    Reply

  25. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!Hope you are well…

    Reply

    1. Thank you to you and your friends for your kind and thoughtful remembrances about my dad. You all meant the world to him, and he was so proud of everyone. We are grateful and honored that you were part of his and our family's lives. Liz McGehee

      Reply

      1. Thank you, Sam. Beautiful words. My father dearly loved you and all of your buddies, and you greatly enriched his world. Thank you again. –Molly

        Reply

  26. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!

    Hope you are well…

    Reply

  27. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!

    Hope you are well…

    Reply

  28. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!

    Hope you are well…

    Reply

  29. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!

    Hope you are well…

    Reply

  30. Thanks for this, Sam. Lots of good stories have been swapped this week on campus. he came up in the communion homily today at Wofford!Hope you are well…

    Reply

  31. […] Larry McGehee passed away just a few short months ago. And now Prof Goodman. Selfishly, I feel like I’m without a mentor in this world. I’m without a guide. I’m not ready to go out into this world without a guide. I’m not ready for the “they are watching you from heaven” speak, as if they were corporal glowing entities like Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of Return of the Jedi. I’m not ready for that. Goodman was the only person I learned something earth-shattering from during every single class (even if it was about Paul). I need that. I’m not ready to let go of that. […]

    Reply

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