My Father and Bragging Rights

I seldom write about myself or my family, not that sort of blog, but this is an off-line one.

My father (and mother) are in their 86th year, closing in on their 61st anniversary. Both in fine fettle, and as he says to me, “all problems are minor”–although not sure my mother would agree.

A former professor of finance and accounting with a Socratic bent, he was a hard but fair grader, took points off exams for grammatical errors, (which drove some of the accounting students nuts) and challenged his students to question, but to question with preparation. “No stupid questions, only stupid answers”..

Yesterday my sister forwarded the letter below, written by a student of his over 30 years ago. It’s unedited, I just took the names out. A letter best shared, showing the effect a teacher had on a (recalcitrant) student, and where he ended up..

A few other important lessons:
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  • If someone has made an impact on your life, tell him or her, regardless of how long it has been. Do so not only because it is the right thing to do, but because we have a moral imperative to let others know how much they have helped. Especially before it’s too late.
  • We may not be able to change the world, but strengthening even one other person’s life or direction is huge; it changes their world.
  • Thank people, and thank them often. It costs nothing, shows good manners, and expresses gratitude, which we need to get through life. And it will mean more than you’ll know, as the letter below shows..
  • [/list] [framed_box] Dear Professor Horwitz,

    I’ll start off by saying this letter is reaching you years too late and for that I apologize. You were my professor for one of the introductory accounting courses in the fall of 1980 at SUNY Binghamton. At the time, I was a fairly irresponsible person who was only majoring in accounting because it sounded like a “responsible” thing to do. In reality, it was not a good fit but I pressed on hoping I might grow into it.

    I attended your class with my friend Steve. Steve was a much better student and always came prepared. I vividly recall one of the early classes when it was time to discuss the homework. Unexpectedly, rather than waiting for volunteers, you chose to call on me directly.

    “Mr. L – what is your answer for problem number 1?”

    Having completed the problem only moments before, I muttered a response with a clear lack of confidence.

    You responded to the entire class:
    “Mr. L thinks the answer is XX. Mr. H, what do you think?”

    As expected, Steve gave a different answer.

    You followed with:
    “Mr. L, your classmate disagrees with you. Do you wish to debate him?”

    This routine continued throughout the semester but eventually I learned to come prepared and pay close attention while in class. My overall grade was not impressive, but I came away with much more than the requisite accounting skills.

    It took me longer than most to finish college but eventually I graduated from Binghamton with a B.S. in Accounting. My first job was with Fidelity Investments as a Fund Accountant and three years later I took a position with Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). I’ve been with PwC for 25 years and just entered my 18th year as a tax partner.

    I’ve certainly come a long way from my struggles at Binghamton but it is people like you that helped shape who I am today. Over the years, I’ve instructed numerous classes and seminars to staff, clients and the general public. I always start off by telling the participants that I plan to randomly call on people to solicit feedback and to provide answers to the problems. I tell them about my experiences from taking your class and how it will help them to learn as much as possible. As a result, most people pay very close attention and I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve received over the years for my teaching style.

    I started this letter telling you it was long overdue. Here is why: My wife, (also a partner and former Binghamton accounting graduate) is good friends with your daughter. Several years ago, they were having lunch and the subject turned to her father, who was an Accounting Professor at Binghamton. My wife came home, told me the story, and asked if I knew you. I immediately told her the stories and experiences from your class and how much of a positive influence you were-and continue to be-in my life.

    I told her I wanted to write you a letter but given my propensity for procrastination, it never happened — until now. So under the “better late than never” saying, here it is.

    It was nearly 33 years ago that I attended your class but I have memories that will last a lifetime. You were a tremendous professor and I thought it would be nice to share with you just how much you were appreciated.

    I wish you well.


    And if you come across my father, be prepared; he still challenges..


    Written by Neal Horwitz, MD of Henry Hale Maguire

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