Monday, July 12, 2021

Remembering Susan Magod

Marvin Bressler, the original Princeton Academic Athletic Fellow, used to say all the time that the best teachers are the ones whose lessons continue to resonate, inspire and inform long after the student has left the classroom.

Gary Walters, the Ford Family Director of Athletics Emeritus, was one of Bressler's students. From all the times that Gary has referenced something he learned from Marv, it's clear that Bressler was himself a great teacher.

One of Gary's biggest beliefs is that coaches should be considered teachers and that athletic venues are extensions of classrooms. To use Gary's word, athletics at Princeton are "co-curricular."

TigerBlog has always agreed with what Gary said on the subject. He's seen it up close for a long time, the value of "Education Through Athletics" and everything that it represents. 

TB has spoken to many Princeton coaches on the basic topic. One of the most astute comments he's heard came on the subject of senior athlete surveys.

What would be great to see, the coach said, is a survey with all of the same questions that was given to the same athletes five years or 10 years or 25 years down the road. What more have they taken way from what they learned as undergrads through their athletic experience that they couldn't appreciate in the moment? How has it impact them years and decades down the road?

TB doesn't need numerical data to know that the answer is a simple "a lot." He's spoken to enough former athletes who said just that, about how much the things that may have bothered them as undergrads came back around to be among the most formative moments of their lives. To be honest, it's one of the best things about Princeton Athletics.

Pete Carril, who turned 91 this past Saturday, always said that he couldn't overvalue the importance of a player who had an outstanding high school coach. Another Princeton coach, referring to a player who had come to college clearly lacking in fundamental preparation that hampered that player's ability to reach the fullest potential as a Tiger, said, clearly in jest, that the player's high school coach "should be taken into the town square and flogged." That might be a bit overstated, but the point was made.

TigerBlog himself was not a college athlete. His strength has been in writing, as you may have surmised by reading this every day.

TB was fortunate. He had four really, really good English teachers in high school. One of them was Susan Magod.

Mrs. Magod was TB's teacher for freshman English and then for a creative writing class, as well as his homeroom teacher his senior year. She was a great combination of caring but stern, warm but demanding, maternal but tough, encouraging but critical. In many ways, in thinking back on his time in her classroom, TB would compare her persona to his longtime former Princeton colleague Inge Radice. 

Her last name was pronounced "MAY-god," which she made clear on Day 1, by saying "... as in 'May God help you if you mispronounce my name.'" She was a smaller woman, but she had a way of imposing her will on the classroom.

TB had recently reconnected with her, tracking her down to send her a copy of his book when it came out last year. It was a way of saying "thank you" for the role that she had played in helping develop TB's interest in writing. He and Mrs. Magod spoke on the phone, and she was so appreciative that he had reached out. She checked back in later to let TB know that she enjoyed what he had written.

TB received a text message early yesterday from his friend Corey, with whom he goes back to long before high school. It was a link to Mrs. Magod's obituary, after she passed away last Thursday at the age of 79. Here is part of what the obit said:

Throughout her life Susan maintained a reverence for the power of the written word. She was an avid reader and upon retirement participated in many local book review groups. 

Mrs. Magod was married for 57 years. She had a daughter and two grandchildren. And, you can add, a legion of former students like TB who took so much from the experience. 

For TB, those lessons resonated long after he was no longer her student. He thought back often through the years to things that he had learned directly from her, and he's very, very glad he had a chance on their phone call a few months ago to thank her for that. 

TB was so sorry to hear of her passing, and he sends his deepest condolences to her family and friends.

Whatever impact TB has had on Princeton Athletics, Susan Magod deserves some credit for as well.

No comments: