A teacher of all timeby Tim Padgett ’84
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There are moments when a professor throws you a curve ball and it turns out to be an epiphany.
But if there is one thing for which I’ll always be grateful to Don, it’s the love of Dickens that he passed on to me during long, genial conversations in his office. Above Don’s desk, in fact, hung a large portrait of Dickens in his study with characters from his novels floating about his head; and Don always rejected the popular scholarly thinking that those characters were the two-dimensional creatures of sentimental holiday fare or 19th-century social crusading. Handing me a copy of Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, he explained the extent to which Dickens’ early career as a journalist informed his fiction. "People like Pickwick are no more two-dimensional than the local politicians we read about every day," Don stressed. "If anything, Dickens added dimension to real people we too often make the mistake of dismissing as two-dimensional."It’s that image of Dickens the journalist that has been a daily inspiration to me—a reminder that the street children I sometimes write about in Latin American capitals like Caracas are hardly that far removed from the world of Oliver Twist. Each December, Don and I reread A Christmas Carol and e-mail whatever humble new insights we glean.
Tim Padgett is the Miami and Latin America bureau chief for TIME Magazine and the 2005 recipient of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for outstanding reporting on Latin America.
Photograph by John Zimmerman