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Posts from the ‘Pittsburgh Speakers Series’ Category

Farewell, Teacher Man – Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

March 26, 2008 was an exciting day for me. That was the day that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt visited the RMU campus and spoke at Rogal Chapel. He was in town as part of the Robert Morris University Pittsburgh Speakers Series, and later that evening he would speak to an admiring audience at Heinz Hall. Being a writer, I was overjoyed to have such an accomplished author right here on campus, as were many others who gathered at the chapel to hear him speak. And Mr. McCourt didn’t let us down.

McCourt is best-known for his bestselling Angela’s Ashes (1999), a haunting memoir that recounts McCourt’s unimaginably tragic childhood growing up in abject poverty in Limerick, Ireland. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography in 1997 and was later made into a movie. I had met him once before at a book-signing for Teacher Man (2005) at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Although I only spoke to him briefly, I was pleasantly surprised by his candor and sense of humor in regards to the teaching profession, which is something he knew much about.

After serving in Germany during the Korean War, McCourt used the G.I. Bill to enroll in New York University and later received a master’s degree from Brooklyn College in 1967. His teaching career began at McKee High School where he taught English, and finished 30 years later at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. In Teacher Man, he detailed his experiences in the profession, which for him was at times confusing, frustrating, and unsatisfying. But the brilliant writer and philosopher that he was, McCourt was able to find humor in nearly everything. And in the whole, his book does much more to emphasize the importance and nobility of teaching rather than belittle it.

When he spoke at RMU last year, McCourt again used his biting humor to entertain and enlighten those in attendance, as he spoke of his years in teaching and the importance of the profession. He shared several stories with us, some of which made many of us blush, and all of which drew hearty laughs and sincere smiles. He also underlined the importance of institutions like RMU that emphasized individual attention, small class sizes, and real-world application of what is learned.

I was deeply saddened to hear of Frank McCourt’s passing on July 19. For a 78-year-old, he had the heart and mind of someone decades younger. When he was here at RMU, I was delighted by his razor-sharp wit and youthful exuberance. It wasn’t what I’d expected from a man of his age who had lived through such a trying childhood. His ability to find humor even in the bleakest of situations was admirable, and I think it’s something we can all learn from and benefit from in our own lives.

–Valentine J. Brkich

All things Irish

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt, who died Sunday at age 78, spoke last year as part of the RMU Pittsburgh Speakers Series, but the first time I met him was 10 years ago when I was the vice president of institutional advancement for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. We hired Frank as the master of ceremonies for the opening night party of the O’Reilly Theater.

Frank had asked me to select a passage from one of his books to read at the event, and I selected a passage from “‘Tis”, his memoir about his life in America. In the passage I selected, Frank recalls how embarrassed he got in college when a professor, detecting his Irish brogue, would call on him to talk about all things Irish: beer, women, soda bread, carousing in bars. Well, here I was, bringing him to Pittsburgh to comment on all things Irish again. When I faxed him the passage, he wrote back “Perfect.” And I was so proud of myself for picking the right thing, and when he got up there on stage, he got a rousing welcome from the Pittsburgh Irish.

Of all the fancy people I met, I was most impressed with Frank, that he would speak to me in very friendly, non-ostentatious manner. We talked about movies and books over dinner. He was so relaxed and very much in the present tense. I was excited because I had read all of his books.

It’s worth noting that the speakers in the Pittsburgh Speakers Series are only under contract to speak at Heinz Hall for subscribers to the series. A few are gracious enough to speak on campus, for no charge, the afternoon before their Heinz Hall talk. Frank, ever the teacher, was kind of enough to do so as well. He gave a lively talk, and those of us who were there will not soon forget it.

Thank you, Frank.

— Jay Carson

Jay Carson is the vice president of institutional advancement at Robert Morris University.

Everyone at RMU is above average, too

Check out WQED’s interview with Garrison Keillor, who spoke last night as part of the RMU Pittsburgh Speakers Series.

A hero speaks

The Trib features a Q & A today with Paul Rusesabagina, who was interviewed after his appearance Wednesday as part of the RMU Pittsburgh Speakers Series.

"The United States of America are great"

The hotel manager whose rescue of 1,200 people inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” praised the election of the first U.S. president with African roots.

“The United States of America are great,” said Paul Rusesabagina, when asked for his feelings about Barack Obama’s victory in Tuesday’s presidential election.

Rusesabagina spoke today at RMU as part of the Diversity Speaker Series. He is speaking tonight as part of the RMU Pittsburgh Speakers Series.

“This is a very good lesson of democracy to the whole universe, the whole world,” Rusesabagina said. “All those minorities who are always threatened by the majorities should learn the lesson of democracy from this country.”

See the video: