On the Shoulders of a Giant…

Across my 22 years of schooling I was incredibly fortunate to encounter three remarkable women educators who fostered in me a love of learning, lighted my path, inspired me with their wisdom, and prepared me as an educator. This past week the world lost one of these luminaries: my favorite college professor, academic advisor, and in later years, my Sunday School teacher, and friend. As a transfer student many moons ago, the college registrar, upon learning I was considering a major in history, kind of blithely announced, “Oh, then I’ll put you in Kay Lindley’s Russian History class; you’ll enjoy that.” “Ugh,” I thought to myself; “no, I won’t.” Happily enough he was entirely right and I was entirely wrong. It turned out to be the most fascinating college class I ever took.  Sitting in Professor Lindley’s classroom I truly learned what a liberal arts education should be. Her lectures never failed to be fascinating and insightful; I was never bored in her class.  But more than that, she knew which questions to ask, how to inspire discussion, and–more than any other teacher I’ve encountered–how to integrate faith and learning. Her faith informed her scholarship and inspired ours.

As is probably often true with young believers, I went through periods of doubt as a college student, never more so than in 1981 when six of my friends were killed in an automobile accident.  There were times when the world in general, and God in particular, didn’t make sense. I remember on one occasion of soul searching I came to this comforting realization: “Dr. Lindley is the most brilliant person I’ve ever known, if Christianity makes sense to her, then I guess I’ll continue to hang in with it.”

Throughout my life I’ve been blessed with strong female role models who helped me to reject gender stereotypes, who expanded the narrow confines of my conservative evangelical upbringing. I believe these women, Katherine Lindley chief among them, helped me to be a more progressive believer and in later years, a better father to my daughter.  If seems a fitting postscript to her remarkable life that she died on International Women’s Day. Long before Hillary Clinton, Kay Lindley broke down barriers and shattered the glass ceiling at a small Christian college by always being the smartest person in the room. She knew how to combine mental toughness and acuity with a tender love and devotion to her students.  Every time I sat down with her as my advisor I was astonished by 1) how unfailingly happy she was to see me come through her door and 2) how astonishingly she recalled my story, my coursework, my hopes and dreams. Many years later when I served as a college student advisor I realized anew how truly remarkable were both of those attributes. In all my years of knowing her, I only ever heard her become emotional one time.  In much later years, as my adult Sunday School teacher, she was working through the gospel of Mark with us and her voice cracked as she tried to describe the love of Christ, That rare display of emotion made such a deep and lasting impression on me.


Nearly forty years after I sat in her Russian history class I find myself a member of that ancient and noble profession of teaching and wishing that I could somehow channel the wisdom and greatness of Katherine Lindley, or at the very least that video cameras had existed in 1979 so that I could go back and better study her transformative pedagogy that I somehow took for granted as a nineteen-year-old sophomore. Bernard of Chartres observed that anything we are able to accomplish is only because we are like dwarfs perched on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.  So today I remember and celebrate the life of Professor Kay Lindley and the generations of students who can see further into both the past and the future because of her pioneering work, brilliant historical mind, and caring heart. I’m forever grateful that my journey brought me through the classroom of her life.

Published by timnichols

First and foremost, I’m a dad. After that, by day I am a professor of Education at Alfred University, by night I'm a dog lover, a cancer survivor, and a daydreamer. Here are some thoughts and lessons learned from my journey…

6 thoughts on “On the Shoulders of a Giant…

  1. Tim, this is a beautiful reflection and I love the photos! She was such an inspiration. So grounded and diligent herself, while being available to us as students. Her high expectations were an encouragement, somehow, rather than an added burden.
    I am so grateful to have been her student and her advisee.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Tim. I had not heard. But, your reflections were spot on about Russian History and later for European History classes. She was always respectful and I always felt like I was just staying up. My senior year, and her last year – she was cleaning out her “library” and offered me Carlos Castaneda, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge”. She thought I could handle it. I still have that book, not because I could handle it but because Kay gave it to me. John

    Liked by 1 person

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