Peace in Christ, We Wish You Well: A Portrait of Mr. P

Waltonian | The Waltonian Simon Kwilinski | The Waltonian

If you have ever seen a smiling, white-bearded man dressed in all black zipping across campus on a Razor scooter, then you have some familiarity with the wonderful man that is Dr. Frederic Putnam, who prefers to go by Mr. P. He is a professor of Bible and Liberal studies here at Eastern, with most of his work done within the Templeton Honors College, and he is retiring at the end of this semester. I had the honor of asking this beloved professor a few questions regarding his teaching life, inspirations, and philosophy on learning. His answers show a degree of care and effort that I found unmatched in my experience as an amateur journalist. It is a true privilege and joy to share some of his story with the readers of The Waltonian. 

“What began your journey as a teacher?”

One day, when I was perhaps thirteen years old, one of my aunts rushed out of a room in which “the grown-ups” were having a heated discussion, came right up to me and demanded, “Freddy! What do you want to be when you grow up?” I said, “I—I don’t know. A teacher, I guess”. At which she stormed back into the room, and I heard her say to my grandfather, “I knew it—it’s all your fault!” 

I had just started playing cornet in school, and was good enough at music—and only at music—that we all (I include myself) assumed that I would become a music teacher. I started college as a music education major, loved and breezed through music classes and hated and despised my education classes to the extent that I transferred to another (Christian) college with no sense of vocation and a strong anti-vocation to becoming the minister of a church. I nonetheless went to seminary, loved my professors, and with the encouragement and support of a former employer, went on to grad school, where I soon began to dream of returning to teach in the same seminary, which I did, and where I taught for more than twenty years.

“How did you come to Eastern? What drew you to Templeton?”

I was content where I was teaching (at another Christian college), and knew only that the Templeton Honors College existed, primarily because its first dean, Allen Guelzo, and I had been friends and graduated together from college. I knew nothing else about THC.

After hearing that a position would open, and with the encouragement of friends, I visited the website talked with some folks about THC, and saw that my pedagogical development, which was barely tolerated at my then-school, would be far more welcome at THC, even supported and encouraged, I applied and was offered a position on Christmas Eve 2011 (a v. nice Christmas gift).

“If you could impart any advice to those following in your footsteps, what would it be?”

“[A]dvice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” (Gildor to Frodo, LOTR I) […]

I suspect, however, that the best advice is simply to love the Lord your god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, and to remember that your students (and your colleagues) are your neighbors, that every one of them right now “has a hard fight with an unfavoring world”, and so let your self “be moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self” (John Watson 1903), in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, who came to serve and not to be served.

What would you like to say to the students whose lives you’ve impacted?”

One person’s impact on another is normally unknowable for decades, by which time so many other persons and circumstances have affected their lives that any part I may have played will have shrunk to insignificance. But to those students who know that I have treated them poorly, either personally or professionally: please forgive me, especially if I ever had the gall to offer you advice. 

Mr. P gave plenty more answers, but alas, we have limited space in this paper. His list of inspirations is as widespread as to include Beethoven, Augustine, past professors, Emily Dickinson, bell hooks, his parents (Stanley and Elizabeth), Gawaine (of Sir Gawaine & the Greene Knight), and of course, Josef Pieper. And though the full answer was certainly far more in-depth and profound, we will have to be content with a snippet of what Mr. P said about what teaching means to him: “teaching is the joy of reading and then thinking together—talking and listening—about what we have read.” 

When asked about retirement plans, Mr. P gave this perfect answer: “Firstly, and fundamentally, I don’t know what retirement will bring: many or few years of life, debilitation, or any of the other slings and arrows that flesh is heir to. Proverbs 27.1 constantly hovers in the back of my mind.” He also, however, gave a delightful to-do list that included: writing, reading, re-reading, canoeing and camping, time with family, and “puttering.”

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