Folks working on this important event have asked me to share some memories of Prof. Ziff. I’m honored to do so.
Since we’re going to hear from prize-winning Globe columnist and Ziff disciple Kevin Cullen later today and since Prof. Ziff loved a good newspaper column—right, Mr. Royko?—and with apologies to good columnists everywhere, I thought I’d pen my very first column, entitled, “Musings while wishing I had more time with Professor Ziff”:
Yes, I wish I had more time so he could tell us again in class that if we spelled one name wrong on any story assignment, we would get an “F” for that paper. I was never quite sure if anyone actually got an “F”---thank G-d I didn’t but I will tell you this---I double and triple check name spellings to this day. I mentioned that memory to UMass President Marty Meehan the other day…”Wow,” he said, “that must have stayed with you…” Yes, Mr. President it did…Just to confirm it’s: M-E- E- H -A -N…..
That’s Prof. Ziff….still with us.
I wish I had more time for him to call me in Washington. I’d be sitting at my desk in D.C. and the phone rings…it’s Prof. Ziff. I think caller ID just came to the US Senate phone system…so, I’d look down and my heart would skip a beat and then pound, pound, pound…He’s calling me?
Hey, he’d say, you hear what Cullen is doing? He’s with the Globe…And, then, so-and-so, she’s on page 1 of the NYT today…you see that? The common thread among all the mentions of Cullen and the others: All Ziff students whose careers he was following, Ziff disciples, really…He didn’t follow their careers yearly, not every now and then but daily, just like the rhythm of a newspapers, day to day…His pride came through the land line desk phone. These were still HIS students—even after they belonged to the Globe, the NYT and elsewhere. Pride in his students—but also pride in his craft of newspapering.
I wish I had more time for Ziff to rip my copy apart with his deadly blue pencil—you remember those blue pencils---I could swear he had to pull 4 inches worth of those strings for my copy alone… How many times did he tell us—clarity of writing is important, when in doubt leave it out, fewer words the better…
I wish I had more time for calls like….the ones where all he wanted to do was tell me how the JS Dept. was growing and doing well…a proud parent, for sure…I’d love the stories about how the program was growing—it had to since the days when he needed me to help cover a class—me, can you believe he gave me that chance—to teach JS 101…wow, what a great experience for a senior to teach sophomores journalism writing… Best part---I got to borrow his blue copy editing pencils!
Yes, musings while I wish I had more time with Prof. Ziff…I had the chance to speak recently to the UMass Boston campus students at their graduation ceremony….Here’s an excerpt:
"….Speaking of faculty, I want to share one personal note with you all, I said to the UMass Boston grads:
I know if you look left, look right, and in front of you, I told the UMass Boston grads, you will likely see classmates who are friends and with whom you have plans to stay in touch . But, I want to also urge you to think of the faculty member who spent extra time with you, or with whom you found a special bond.
I had a professor like that and over 3-plus decades we would talk, he guiding me, me drinking in his TRUE WISDOM.
I know many of you have your own Prof. Ziff and I urge you stay in touch with him or her—it will be an equal part of your UMass experience."
I wish I had more time with him in the months…I wanted to visit Prof. Ziff one more time so I asked Ralph Whitehead if it would be ok and if it was a good time to do that…he said he was hanging on but not doing well….I connected with Max Ziff and he said it would be ok…I drove the 2 hours and saw him at the hospice. Turns out, I ended up being alone with Prof. Ziff for an hour while the family took a needed break from their 24-hour vigil. I walked out into the corridor and asked a nurse if she thought he could hear me…she said yes, she thought he could.
I touched his shoulder and told him that he enriched the lives of hundreds of students like me, Cullen, Roche, Parent, even Densmore. I told him we were all grateful.
I wish I had more time to tell you all more stories of Ziff but everyone in this room has their own---and isn’t that the true, lasting magic that is---not was, but is---Prof. Howie Ziff…there it is, I did it, I never called him Howie before but it feels right now….truer than ever….Howie, we are all better human beings because of the time we had with you.