In my young life, I have had two careers. For 10 years, I worked as a journalist for newspapers in West Virginia and North Carolina before concluding that career in public policy. Now, I am a pastor serving in the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The two career paths seem polar opposites, but are uniquely similar. Both are about conveying a message to a general public. As a journalist, you are conveying the day’s news in an understandable way. As a pastor, you are communicating the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an understandable way.
As well, I have had the privilege of studying under some impressive men and women, at WVU and Asbury Theological Seminary. The name of some of these professors have faded in my memory, but there is a group of about five that will always be at the forefront of my heart. It is out of an appreciation of what they gave me in their teaching. Each in their own way taught me how to write, how to think, and how to see the bigger picture.
Yesterday, I was sadden to hear of the passing of one my favorite professors at WVU. To many, George Esper, 79, was the last AP reporter out of Saigon. A man who covered the end of the Vietnam War long after many reporters fled for safety. He will be remembered for his ability to tell a story with compassion and a detail for accuracy. For others, like myself, he was a gracious professor and teacher, who gave us so much more than tips on how to write better.
I will remember Esper as the loving professor who, as others have said, made the final years at West Virginia University more enjoyable. Sure, he taught students how to write, but there was more to Esper than that. He taught young journalists, and this pastor, how to not lose their soul in the process of covering a story.
When I think back on my times at WVU and the School of Journalism, two professors come to mind because of their desire for wanting the best out of each student, both as writers and as individuals. Esper was one of them. He took an interest in every student, which was noticeable in a large public university. I am still fond of the fact that he knew that I worked for a local newspaper while in school. He would tell me stories about Mickey Furfari, who is a long-time beat writer of West Virginia University athletics and a correspondent for that paper. Esper took time to get to know the individual behind the student. That was special.
Ultimately, I am forever grateful and humbled that Esper wrote my recommendation to Asbury. Even though I had been away from WVU for five years, he still remembered who I was and my participation in his classes. That meant a lot to me then, and it means a lot to me today. No matter where I go in ministry, it began with the blessing of this wonderful man.
My heart breaks for Esper’s family today as they grieve and make plans for his funeral. My heart also grieves for the entire West Virginia University community and all who knew this wonderful man. May God comfort and strengthen us all, and praise God that we had the opportunity to be blessed by some an amazing life.