Best in Us
Michael J. Graham, S.J.
We all lost a very good friend on July 26 when Skip Prosser died, didn’t we? No death is ever easy, of course, and the death of a young person especially so. But Skip’s very aliveness—his energy and his wit, the twinkle in his eye and his drive—guaranteed that sadness and shock would walk hand-in-hand at the news.
Xavier owes him much, of course. There would be no Cintas Center, for example, without him. Though he coached there only one season, he championed the building during the years of planning and fundraising that led up to it. But because making the Cintas Center a reality set the bar higher in so many ways at Xavier, Skip was one of those catalytic people who, along with Jim Hoff, helped set the stage for what Xavier University became during the 90s and what it has gone on to become today. That was Skip. He always set the bar high. But more on that in a moment.
I was extraordinarily privileged to be down in Winston-Salem for the funeral Mass there. To pray with the family. To read the Gospel. Skip’s celebrity brought a certain notoriety, of course, but the crowds didn’t come to the church and to the chapel to mourn a famous man. They came to bid goodbye to a man they loved. It was an extraordinary scene: all those players, all those coaches, all those friends and his family in their midst. More than one person I spoke to had mentally filed away one question to consider later, and perhaps I noted it because I had filed it away myself: How might I better live my life so that those I leave behind will one day send me off like this? A very good question for us all.
But that, too, was Skip. Always posing questions, always the teacher. His players past and present attested to that during and after the funeral, recalling Skip the Teacher. I remember him that way myself. At first, I thought it surprising that, when I sat next to him at dinners and the like, he always wanted to talk history and literature. He gave me my first book of Irish history, for example, and I hope I returned the favor by recommending novels to him.
He had a motto, taken from Emerson, that captured well the teacher in him who was always driven to the greater and the more: “Our chiefest desire in life is to find someone who will help us get the best from ourselves.” Words to that effect, I’m sure; I doubt that I have the quotation exactly right. Skip took that quotation seriously. I suspect that is why he was a man of such deep faith. I know it is why he married his wife, Nancy. And I know as well that I won’t be alone in honoring his memory by letting that quote sink ever deeper in me.
And so we come to a new school year at Xavier. The freshmen are preparing to arrive as I write this and have already arrived as you read it. It promises to be quite a year, one where we begin to realize in more tangible form some of the big dreams we have been dreaming for the past several years. But perhaps that motto of Skip’s from Emerson could light our way this year: That we would seek out those who will help us get the best from ourselves this year. And more: That we would ourselves be people who would help others find the best in themselves. For surely, that is something close to the best in us. It certainly was in Skip.