This week, I learned much too late of the passing of my favorite professor and one of the best people I knew, George Friedman. He passed away in late February.
Every once in a while someone comes along and makes an impression on your life. That person, for me, came in the form of Dr. George Friedman, professor of English at Towson University. George, as I came to call him, was the singular inspiration for my first novel, Beneath the Mimosa Tree, which began as a short story in George’s class—Writing Creative Short Fiction—during my first master’s degree. When he returned a short story I wrote, and verbally told me he “thought I had a novel there” and that “someday, I hope you write it.” I tucked his comment in the back of my mind for 20 years until I finally wrote the novel.
George had an infectious spirit. He was fun and funny and charming. He called everyone by their last names. “Ms. Parrillo…why did your character go into the bar that day?” He would question what you wrote and ask you why. He had us all read each others’ work and then we professionally and kindly critiqued them. I watched George carefully in action, and decided right there that if I ever became a teacher, I would want to operate in a similar manner as George: patient, kind, engaging, knowledgeable, creative, fun, and respectful. That was George. He may not have known it at the time, but I counted him as a mentor.
As I continue to strive to be the best teacher I can be, I always have George’s methodologies in the back of my mind.
George was also a huge sports fan—and of baseball—and he loved that I worked for the Orioles (and was gainfully employed by them while I was a student in his class), even though he was a Twins fan. He also knew my colleagues, Bill Stetka and Beth Plecker, and we would joke about how all four of us knew each other. When I served as the editor of the Cal Ripken Commemorative during Cal’s 2131 record-breaking season of surpassing Lou Gehrig’s record, George mailed the commemorative I sent him to my office and asked Bill and me to sign it.
I loved George.
In 2013, after years of losing touch because our lives became busy, I was signing books at the Baltimore Book Festival, and a woman saw my biographical sign that sat in front of my station and mentioned that I went to Towson. We struck up a conversation, and she told me that she was a professor there, as well. I asked her if she knew George, as we had lost touch over the years, and she said that she played cards with him once a week. I grabbed a copy of Beneath the Mimosa Tree, a book I dedicated to George, inscribed it to him, and she gave it to him.
A few weeks later, I received this reply from George, and it remains one of the nicest notes I’ve ever been lucky enough to get.
George, I will always remember you fondly, and you will be missed. I will do my best to carry on your infectious spirit as a teacher.
I’m sure this wasn’t the right place to put this, but I tried stephanieverni.com and my computer wouldn’t send it to that location.
I wanted to tell you how flattered I was initially, when I read your inscription and acknowledgments.
Then I READ Beneath the Mimosa Tree and realized how little credit I deserved. It’s an AMAZING first novel–the characters are so flesh-and-blood, Michael and Annabelle are so endearing I found myself DELIGHTED at the end–even though I understood perfectly why Annabelle was so reluctant to go through with it ten years before.
I’m very proud of you, undeserving though I may be of your thanks, and I look forward to reading more.
Stephanie Verni is Professor of Communication at Stevenson University. She is the author of 5 works of fiction and the co-author of one academic textbook on Event Planning. Her character-driven books are set in beautiful Maryland locations and examine the realities of the human heart. Connect with her on Instagram at stephanie.verni or on Twitter at @stephverni. Or, visit her Amazon page at Stephanie Verni, Author.