by Margaret Hart (10/3/2014)
It was a great privilege to have worked with David Reyes for so many years. I met David 21 years ago when we were both graduate students in a British literature course taught by Dr. Elaine Osio at Cal State LA. We were both Teaching Associates during our time as masters students, and he defended his thesis not long after I defended mine. For many years, our offices have been side by side in the English Department. We both enjoyed teaching Basic Writing courses to students entering the university.
He was extremely dedicated to teaching and displayed infinite patience with both the people on his class roster and the people in his department. He spent many hours holding individual conferences with students so that he could give them personal attention, which was often the key to helping them over the hurdles that had prevented them from succeeding in a course. He devoted enormous amounts of time just to listening, to students and colleagues. He knew they needed to be heard.
I remember one particular student he had taught in a Basic Writing course who had weak skills. In Spring of 2013, she was in my English 101 class, and spoke about how she had never been a good writer and never expected to become one. I asked if she could shift her thinking to allow for the possibility of improving; she could become a better writer if she did not write herself off. She did get a little stronger, but not enough to pass the course. A full year later, in Spring of 2014, she re-took Eng. 101 with David Reyes. “She’s got to get through,” David said, and, following his usual modus operandi, he had her come in to meet with him, patiently explaining how to improve her papers. One day stands out: a late afternoon in the late Spring when he spent more than an hour working with her. There was not a line of students waiting to see him that day; he could make her feel he had all the time in the world for her. There had been a department party that afternoon, and cake left over in the offices down the hall. David walked down and brought back two paper plates, each with a piece of cake and a plastic fork, for himself and the student. As they talked, he told her that some people in the department might frown on sharing these refreshments with a student, but if no one else was going to eat it, why not? He made the human connection with students and made them feel welcome. And he was eminently practical.
He was probably the most entertaining person in the English Department. His impersonations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and others kept me laughing for hours. He loved a bargain. He delighted in the great buys he had made at book sales. One time he gave me a paperback dictionary he had purchased for 50 cents, because he noticed mine was falling apart.
He was generous in sharing his knowledge and could give good information on practical matters outside the limits of academia. Just the week before the quarter started, I sat next to him at a meeting for the First Year Experience program and told him I had ants coming into my shower through a crack in the tile. I asked him about caulking; I knew he would know. “Get the ceramic tile caulk,” he said. “It comes in clear and white. You don’t need to get a caulking gun because you’re just going to fix the hole in the tile. Spray in the hole for ants before you caulk.” Thanks, David.
But I think his steadiness and solidity is what will be most missed. He was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar in many kinds of stressful situations. Not easily fazed by the twists and sometimes hairpin turns in policy and dictums encountered when one works in a bureaucracy. One of his fellow instructors commented that when she felt overstressed, she liked to listen to the sound of David Reyes’ voice down the hall. It had a calming effect on her.
I think my most treasured memory of David followed an incident early in Spring quarter 2006. I had been assigned to a course I had never taught before, with only two weeks’ notice before the quarter started. Then two weeks into the quarter, I came home one night to find my home had been burglarized. Among the valuable things taken was my computer, containing my teaching plans. I was traumatized, and not long after that I took a sick day, ill from stress. I received a lot of help and support from people in the department, but I still remember David coming into my office and pulling up a chair to talk to me. He said he had heard I had called in sick. “Now that doesn’t sound like Margaret Hart,” he said. I don’t remember what he specifically said, or what I said, but I remember how he really and truly was there for me. Not just lip service, he sat, he listened, he gave me his time and attention, a precious, precious gift. His steadiness helped steady my nerves. As I write this I think of the lines in Psalm 23 “He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.” It is not implausible to make the case that much of what David Reyes was doing at Cal State LA was the Lord’s work.
Yet he had the guise of an ordinary man, not one to call a lot of attention to himself. It may be the lasting imprint he leaves will be more memorable because he flew below the radar. While he was here, students, faculty and staff members may not have fully comprehended what he was doing because he was low-key about it. You could even call what he did a magic trick or a sleight of hand, but that would not do him justice because there was nothing of the charlatan about him.
We are fortunate in life if we encounter a person who leads by example to show us what a human being can be. We are blessed beyond measure when we are able to encounter that person on a regular basis over a period of years, and we were blessed to know and work with David Reyes.
A few years ago, I had a dream about David. I was traveling by foot along a landscape near the shore of a lake, and I saw David in the distance. I called out to him for help, and he came running to assist me. That was David, in the dream world as well as the waking world, he was always ready to help.
There is a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that is most appropriate. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!” May flights of angels sing David to his rest, and may they console his family and loved ones in the days ahead.