June 3, 2002
When I was a student at Baylor and first getting to know Ann Miller, I had occasion to walk across Founders Mall with her one day. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon. The grounds crew had just planted several million daffodils, and all was right with the world.
I'm not sure where we were heading -- or why -- but on the way Ann spotted, at a distance of 30 or 40 yards, two students she knew, sitting on a bench. They were closely entwined, very much minding their own business, which seemed to be each other. As we strode toward the romantic couple, Ann began rather loudly declaiming those immortal lines of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall":
"In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; / In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love ... "
By the time we arrived at the bench and were standing behind the pink-faced couple, she had made a smooth segue from the 19th to the 20th century. Turning her attention to the pretty, young blonde sitting there, Ann placed a hand on the girl's shoulder, shook her head sadly and quoted Yeats:
"I heard an old religious man / But yesternight declare / That he had found a text to prove / That only God, my dear, / Could love you for yourself alone / and not your yellow hair. "
The couples' response was a marvelous combination of embarrassment and sheer delight.
If I hadn't understood before, I understood then that I was in the presence of a different kind of teacher -- different in relation to her students, different in relation to her work -- someone so in love with poetry, with what the written and spoken word can convey, that the language of books was constantly escaping the page -- and through her -- becoming again and again part of the lived language.
This is the language she has been steeped in from childhood, reading and reciting poetry to her brothers to entertain them,
later studying literature at Baylor under Dr. A.J. Armstrong, teaching with Martha Emmons, reading and reciting to her own children, still later sitting at the feet of the many wonderful writers she has helped to bring to campus -- and writing and reading her own very fine poems. It's the language she has shared with countless enthralled students -- that she's kept on sharing with me over the years as we've traded recommendations of books to read, poets to get to know.
At some point in my college career, I began to think about becoming a college teacher myself. One day I mentioned my interest to Ann, and soon after, she did the single most valuable thing she could have done in response. She didn't give me her personal testimony as a teacher. She didn't start evaluating likely graduate programs. She didn't talk about the pros and cons of being part of the profession.
She gave me a chance to teach.
I don't know to this day whether there actually was an important board meeting that Ann had been called to attend at short notice. That, at least, was the story she told me. I do know that she asked if I would teach the short story class in her absence. When I accepted, with some trepidation, she set about doing the second most valuable thing she could have done for me: She made certain I wouldn't fail. One weekend afternoon before the scheduled class, she invited me to her house, and, over tea and cookies, we went through the assigned stories in great detail. When we were finished, I had the structure of the class discussion well in hand.
I can't say for certain how the class I led went or what the students thought. All I know is that I had such a wonderful time doing it. And that experience played no small part in my decision to become a college English teacher -- one of the best jobs there is on this earth.
And so, I owe Ann Miller a great deal. We all do who have had the privilege of knowing her during her long service to Baylor University. She has shared with us her love of language, her love of learning, her enormous passion for life -- and we are immeasurably richer
Robert Browning wrote a poem about an early Renaissance painter named Fra Lippo Lippi. In the poem, Lippi attempts, among other things, to explain his view of life and art. Critics long have considered Lippi's monologue very much Browning's statement on the purpose of poetry. For me, it is also an expression of Ann Miller's gift to us.
"Don't you mark?" Lippi says. "We're made so that we love / First when we see them painted, things we have passed / Perhaps a hundred times -- nor cared to see, / And so they are better, painted -- better to us, / Which is the same thing. Art was given for that, / God uses us to help each other so, Lending our minds out."
Ann Miller, thank you for the loan.
Dr. McGlamery received her BA in journalism from Baylor in 1976 and her PhD in English literature from Emory University in 1983. She has been on the faculty at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., since 1987.