About two weeks ago, on the evening of Tuesday, October 25, our University of Portland community suffered a terrible loss: Steve Watson, our assistant director of campus security, died in a plane crash. Steve had worked at UP for over a decade, after serving for 26 years as an Oregon state trooper. Defying the stereotypes of the “tough cop,” Steve was universally respected and beloved as a person who treated others with gentleness and grace. I was blessed to have had just such an encounter with Steve on the last day of his life.
I had spent that Tuesday morning trying to counsel a family struggling with a very difficult and delicate problem. So by noontime, when I entered the campus dining room that serves UP’s Holy Cross community, faculty and staff, I was feeling pretty drained and a little down. After moving through the buffet line, I looked around the room for an available seat.
The usual Holy Cross table of priests and brothers was already over full. Normally, I enjoy sitting with other faculty members, but our conversations can sometimes turn into sessions griping about students or speculating on university matters, and that day I just had no appetite for such banter. At a table near the windows, Steve Watson was eating with Michael McNerney, one of the campus security officers. As I approached them, I asked, “Is this a working lunch?” “Not at all,” they replied. “Please join us.”
What followed was one of the more delightful lunches I had enjoyed in a long time. We talked about everything from bicycle theft on campus and why students have stopped using U-locks, to officer McNerney’s experience with brewing mead and how bees make different types of honey from different fruit trees.
Throughout our conversation it was clear that, while Steve knew a lot about a lot, he was very happy to listen to others and to appreciate their opinions or insights. As our lunch hour came to an end, I left the table more ready to return to the day’s work, because my pleasant time with these two men had done a great deal to calm and cheer my anxious and tired spirit.
Our Holy Cross Constitution on Mission envisions us ministering among people “whose lot we share” so that we become “their neighbors...with them and of them.” Because our colleagues at UP have become our neighbors, I was blessed to share in one of the last hours of Steve Watson’s life; and he, unknowingly, spent that hour ministering to me, simply by being the open and hospitable soul he was. I am deeply grateful for his charity to me, and I trust that God will remember and reward this kindness.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
Fr. Charlie McCoy, C.S.C., is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Portland. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog, reflecting primarily on the work of Holy Cross in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross priests and brothers in the field of education to bring hope to the Church and world.