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'Ultimate Professor' Retires, But Not Really

Date: Jan. 16, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo: By Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Archive: Campus News

The sign on Warren Lashley's door will say "the communicator is out," a little more often than "in" these days, because Lashley officially retired at the end of December 2000. But Aristootle, the brown teddy bear that dangles beneath the sign, won't have a chance to get too lonely.

His 75-year-old owner has already returned to campus to teach a history of American public address course for winter quarter and to work on transferring some of his communication treasures to a proposed new Communication Resource Center for his department.

Warren Lashley

Aristootle, whose moniker slightly twists the name of the ancient Greek kingpin of communication, won't be the only one happy to hear Professor Lashley hasn't disappeared from campus. At his retirement party in December, colleagues and graduates of the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences communication department spoke up in admiration of his gentle qualities, his concern for students and his knowledge.

"I know all your students will miss you because whenever I mention the name 'Warren Lashley' to any of them, they beam - they break out in a big smile," said Professor Cynthia Berryman-Fink.

Summed up Brenda LeMaster, a graduate of the department who serves as vice provost for academic affairs on West Campus: "I do believe you are one of the finest, truest gentlemen left on this campus."

Communication sciences and disorders professor Ernest Weiler called Lashley "the ultimate professor." Another colleague in communication, Jerry Jordan, confessed that he and his wife had decided while watching "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" one evening that Warren Lashley would be the perfect choice for a "lifeline."

Former department head Gail Fairhurst could always count on Lashley to save her the pineapple LifeSavers from the rolls he carries in his pockets and puts on his desk. On top of all that, the whole department relied on him to be the departmental historian.

By letter, UC President Joseph A. Steger lamented Lashley's retirement and said he had enjoyed serving as a guest lecturer in Lashley's favorite course, "Speaking of Abraham Lincoln." President Steger frequently spoke to Lashley's classes on the topic "An Executive Views an Executive."

Others talked of trying for many years to stump Dr. Lashley with trivia questions related to Lincoln, his favorite public speaker. They admitted to the futility of their efforts, because Lashley always knew the answers. Even the fact that Lincoln and his "enemy" Clement Vallandigham once owned property together was not new information to him, attested adjunct assistant professor and former Lashley student Kristina Tabor, who gleaned the tidbit from a library in Lebanon, Ohio.

Lashley's studies of Lincoln have spilled over into an accumulation of memorabilia that make his Teacher's College office part Lincoln Library. Most of these treasures, along with others related to several noted rhetoricians, are squeezed into his tiny office. So are three towering bookcases, a shorter glass-fronted shelving unit, three filing cabinets, a computer on a table, a desk and two chairs, all arranged frontways and sideways to use every bit of space available.

Even with all the furniture, there's still room to display the Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award (1997) that Lashley won from the National Library of Poetry. He writes poetry for fun. The walls also have space for images of Lincoln and other Lashley favorites, such as female presidential candidate Belva Lockwood, Theodore Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan and Lincoln's anti-war contemporary Clement Vallandigham. Vallandigham holds the distinction of being found guilty of treason for speaking out against the Civil War, running for Ohio governor while living in exile, and later shooting himself in the head while demonstrating to a jury how an alleged murder victim might have committed suicide.

William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president unsuccessfully in 1896, 1900 and 1908, will become one of Lashley's retirement research projects. "He made a number of contributions to communication," Lashley said. He was the first candidate for national office to use sound recordings, rather than printed words or personal appearances, to reach his constituents. In those pre-radio days, Bryan used cylinders that recorded speeches to be played on a phonograph for local political gatherings. Bryan also invented the "overflow speech," directed at people who waited outside at major events when crowds grew too big to accommodate inside a public hall. Bryan also fascinates Lashley, because he spoke out for several ideas that became reality years later: a monetary system not based on gold, a United States that did not pursue imperial territories and voting rights for women.

One of Lashley's first retirement priorities will be to re-record a collection of 147 orations he has obtained over his 51-year teaching career (37 years at UC). While some of the recordings feature impersonators reading the words of the famous, such as Lincoln or Patrick Henry, others are the original speaker. Franklin D. Roosevelt tops the list with the most numerous pieces of speech in Lashley's collection, but others include former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew chastising the news media, King Edward VIII's abdication of his British throne for American Wallis Simpson and Gen. Douglas MacArthur's "old soldiers never die, they just fade away" farewell. At least three tape players from different eras are stacked atop a table to help Lashley in this task.

Nearly all the retirement plans represent projects Lashley has vowed for years to do "when he gets around to it." Now that he's retired he hopes to finally have the time. Just to make sure he does, one of his students gave him a round, "To It" disk to carry with him as a reminder.

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