The hallways of The Carolina Inn on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are filled with photographs and paintings of people who made a difference in the university’s 228-year history. After staying in the inn for three days earlier this year, I felt like I had a sense of how UNC was influenced by the two centuries of faculty, staff and alumni whose likenesses lined the halls.
As we begin the academic year, I am filled with a sense of history and gratefulness for those at UF who have come before us and on whose shoulders we all stand.
Michael Gannon, an emeritus member of the UF history department faculty, died April 10 at the age of 89. In his 36 years as a UF faculty member, he taught over 16,000 students, was a prodigious scholar of Spanish and Florida history and a mentor to many. A list of his awards for scholarship, teaching and service would fill several columns.
In addition to his UF doctorate, Dr. Gannon also had a graduate degree in theology and was for several years a Catholic priest, serving at Gainesville’s St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center. He influenced UF, our community and his area of scholarship in many profound ways.
On Friday last week, the UF history department celebrated Dr. Gannon’s life and accomplishments at a memorial service at the Baughman Center. Fellow historians, alumni, university leaders and friends remembered his life-changing teaching, pioneering scholarship of the early history of Florida, moral clarity and strength of character.
“Mike functioned as the conscience of the university and the wider community,” said UF History Professor Steve Noll.
Professor Gannon was once asked how he wanted to be remembered. He first said he wanted to be remembered as a good person and then he corrected himself and said he wanted to be remembered as a good writer. In the history of UF, Professor Gannon will forever be known as a good person and a good writer.
I had the privilege of speaking at B’nai Israel Synagogue earlier this year. I shared with the congregation my two goals for UF: first, that our university’s stature will continue to rise among the world’s great research universities; and second, that the people of UF will be even more caring, loving, encouraging and joyful.
In other words, I hope UF will be filled with Michael Gannons - good writers and good people.
I wish everyone joy in your work as we begin the academic year.