My friend, classmate and Fraternity brother Andy Hoefer wrote this beautiful piece on Larry and his passing.
Andy is now the Marion L. Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech’s School of Literature Communication and Culture and recently became a Ph.D. himself.
Well worth your time…
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 hardwork, 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 not 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 hit me for saying this, that quality brought him as a close to saintliness as I’m likely to encounter in my life. I miss him already.