One of the greatest men I will ever know is gone.
On November 12, 2011, Les Anderson, my professor, my mentor and my friend, died.
Les taught me to write. My entire undergraduate coursework at the Elliott School of Communication was filled with stories I had written for him. As a graduate student, I wrote essays and strategic marketing plans for his pen to grade. I wrote my first blog for him.
Les made me the writer I am, but I cannot write for him now. I cannot find the words to write what I feel needs to be said. I am a good writer. He told me so many times. But what I write for this post will never fully express what we have lost by losing him.
At home, studying, last night, I hopped on Facebook to see what was going on with my friends, as I am bound to do when studying.
The first three posts I read were condolences to the Anderson’s, regretful notices and feelings of loss – all deeply sad.
I could not read more. I did not want to read more.
I kept thinking, “Not Les, not Les.”
I felt so mortal because he never seemed to be.
My professors, my classmates and friends of Les posted to Facebook and Twitter over the course of the night. I received messages from friends, and I sent messages to friends out-of-town.
On Sunday morning, I drove to Valley Center, where he lived, to tell my grandparents, but they had already heard.
The Wichita Eagle is a newsroom filled with people he taught and mentored – people who, like his students, deeply respect him. Les would be in the paper, of course; the Wichita Eagle would make space for Les.
Les deserved the front page, but that is because Les made every one of his students worthy of the front page. He made us writers, even when we couldn’t write.
Because of Les’ faith in me, I succeeded as a writer – even if I didn’t succeed as a journalist. Because of his faith in his students and his dedication to us, failure was never a possibility.
I do not know if I found the right words, but I know Les would grade them with the same eye he used to grade my stories. My wording is sometimes weird, I use too many commas, and I need to cut 100 words.
On my papers, he would write: “It’s always nice to have you in class.” He encouraged me to be better. He made me better.
I spoke with Les on Thursday, November 11, and we talked about my new career, school and how expensive everything is. We drank coffee – he always had coffee – and we just talked.
I remember saying, “Thank you,” and he replied, like always, “You bet!”
I am glad I thanked him that day. I hope he knows it was for everything.
Les will live on in every student he taught, in the lives of every person he touched. He will always be a part of the Elliott School of Communication.
He will always be a part of us.