What About Bob?
A Tribute to Bob Lane
by Ian Johnston
I arrived at Malaspina College (as it then was) in 1975, the last year we were in the old hospital. One of the first things I noticed was how often the name Bob Lane came up (usually in an expression of approval and affection, but not invariably), although he was nowhere to be seen, since he was away on leave studying philosophy at Simon Fraser University. So long before I met the man, I had concluded his was a presence of some stature among the faculty.
When I did finally meet Bob (in 1976) and in the years thereafter, I had many opportunities to congratulate myself on my first judgment, and although we had momentary tiffs here and there, I learned to esteem him as an exceptional member of the faculty, for me a touchstone on many issues when the political and moral climate of the place grew too murky for my manic analytical skills.
That was particularly the case when my conduct was investigated by an ethics committee headed up by Chairman Lane. I'd done some serious mouthing off in print about some other faculty members, constructing a vast rhetorical mountain out of a mole hill. I can remember the first meeting of the committee, when Chairman Bob began the proceedings by demanding, first and foremost, a scrupulous attention to the facts. Now, that, I thought, seems like an eminently sensible way to proceed. How come no one else around here works this way? As it turned out, the committee, after weighing the facts, pointed a finger at me, and I received a mild reprimand, which required a quick (but sincere) grovel. My irritation at that soon passed, and I have always counted myself extremely fortunate to have received such judicial treatment.
This is not the place to list Bob Lane's various accomplishments at Malaspina, even if I knew them all. What matters most to me about the man is not this or that list of books, positions, articles and so on (impressive and important as that list is) nor even the high quality of his teaching (to which thousands of students can attest better than I), but the spirit of his relationship to the college.
Bob Lane has always seemed to me to personify the highest meaning of that overused word colleague. It's not that we were particularly close friends or anything or appeared together at many social functions. True, one year we were both seriously crippled, he with a back operation and me with a ruptured Achilles tendon. We used to inch along, passing each other from time to time (usually by some Fire Lane sign, oddly enough), like two scarred battle cruisers which had seen healthier days.
No, my esteem was based more a sense that I (and others) could always count on him to think clearly about a picture larger than the canvas delineated by his own department or area and then to act calmly and firmly on the basis of that rational consideration and discussion. Perhaps that is what made him so often in demand as an MCFA executive member (especially President). And no faculty member ever possessed such an unerring nose for crap detection. Of course, this was in the days before we all became totally desensitized to bullshit.
But the major reason why I have always been happy to have Bob Lane as a colleague is that no one I know around the place ever cared more for the total college as an institution of value. Nowadays, when we are all encouraged to pursue our private scholarly agendas and are locked into aggressive or defensive departmental turf wars which incite us constantly to complain about the university-college as something oppressive or stupid or whatever, a statement like that must sound hopelessly sentimental. But there was a time, corny or not, when what some people most cared about was Malaspina College itself (rather than their own little corner of it) and when they were prepared to work to make the whole place as fine as it could possibly be. Bob Lane stood at the head of that contingent, now almost totally decimated.
Anyway, the recent news that Bob Lane is retiring at the end of this semester makes me sad, not for him but for us. This is not just another retirement. For Bob Lane, unlike an old timer or two I could mention, embodies a great deal of what used to (and what still should) matter most at Malaspina, and his departure leaves us all that much more impoverished. What he represents is, given what we have turned ourselves into, irreplaceable.
So, Bob, thanks for the memories. We'll miss you. No, scrap that. What I mean is this: we'll really miss you.
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