The Last Time We Saw Lisa
Author(s): Vicki Tolar Burton, Tim Jensen, Kristy Kelly, Sarah Tinker Perrault, & Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder
Vicki Tolar Burton is Professor Emerita in the School of Writing, Literature, and Film at Oregon State University where she also serves on the Steering Committee for the Contemplative Studies Initiative. She is the author of Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley’s Methodism: Reading, Writing, and Speaking to Believe as well as articles in College English, College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Review, and Computers and Composition.
Tim Jensen researches and teaches rhetorical theory, environmental communication, and composition pedagogy at Oregon State University, where he serves as Director of the School of Writing, Literature, and Film. His book, Ecologies of Guilt in Environmental Rhetorics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) illuminates how environmental guilt is provoked, perpetuated, and framed through everyday discourse, and looks to a future where guilt—and its symbiotic relationships with anger, shame, and grief—is shaped in tune with the ecologies that sustain us. Alongside his academic research, he is actively involved in wild salmon advocacy and other ecological restoration projects.
Kristy Kelly is Senior Instructor and Interim Director of First Year Writing at Oregon State University. She received her PhD in 2016 from University of Oregon, and her interests are in rhetoric in digital spaces, new media, and writing centers.
Sarah Tinker Perrault is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Writing Intensive Curriculum at Oregon State University. Her interests are science writing, writing pedagogy, and writing across the curriculum. Her book, Communicating Popular Science: From Deficit to Democracy, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013, and she is now working on a book about rhetorical approaches to teaching science writing. Her articles have appeared in journals including the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, Composition Studies, Information Design Journal, The American Journal of Bioethics, and Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, and she has chapters in Renewing Rhetoric’s Relations to Composition: Essays in Honor of Theresa Jarnagin Enos and in Public Interest Design Education Guidebook: Curricula, Strategies, and SEED Academic Case Studies.
Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder is an Associate Professor at Oregon State University where he teaches courses in rhetoric, technical and science writing, and writing pedagogy. His research has appeared in journals such as College English, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and Technical Communication Quarterly, and he is the author of Communicating Mobility and Technology (Routledge).Tags: camaraderie, in memoriam, memorial, mentorship
In the spirit of collaboration, which was one of Lisa’s gifts to us and to our discipline, this piece was written collaboratively by those who were there:
Vicki Tolar Burton, Tim Jensen, Kristy Kelly, Sarah Tinker Perrault, Ehren Pflugfelder
August 18, 2021, a perfect Oregon summer afternoon, six of us gathered under a huge oak tree in Cloverland Park, near the Oregon State University (OSU) campus in Corvallis. Fully vaccinated, in a socially distanced circle, we sat in our camp chairs (Tim lounged on the grass)—unmasked and happy to see each other’s faces again. Lisa’s husband, the artist Greg Pharr, brought Lisa, helping her navigate her walker over tree roots to join the circle. Kristy recalls that Greg treated Lisa like an absolute queen, ushering her out to the group, setting up her chair, clearly enjoying the adulation she was receiving from us. Greg took off for a coffee shop to look at sketches, as Lisa told us about a bad fall early in the summer that made walking still a challenge. But physical therapy was helping, she said with good spirit.
This was the rhetoric group from the OSU School of Writing, Literature and Film, a group so congenial that every meeting, every gathering feels like a gift, and has for many years. We were Lisa’s home team, her teaching colleagues and friends. Lisa made it a point to get to know even those rhetoric faculty hired after she retired. Our rhetoric group coordinator, Ehren Pflugfelder, kindly included retirees like Lisa (2014) and me (2020) in the gathering. Rounding out the circle were Kristy Kelly, Sarah Tinker Perrault, and Tim Jensen. Lisa expressed regret at not seeing Chris Anderson and Ana Ribero, who were unable to come. As usual, Lisa was interested in how everyone was doing—she was quick to ask about spouses and colleagues who weren’t in attendance, send her regards, and wish them all well. It was in her character to think about community and connections, first and foremost, recalls Tim.
Sarah remembers us talking, with great humor, about Lisa’s cat Leo, the squirrel hunter. Lisa told us he’s not a lap cat but is loving in his own way, albeit a somewhat distressing way when he brings them fully grown dead squirrels.
We briefly discussed Covid, OSU’s imminent return to face-to-face (masks required), fully vaccinated classrooms, and expressed concern for the challenges that incoming freshmen and sophomores face. Lisa shared memories of the OSU writing center’s founder, a woman who lived a stone’s throw from where we sat. Ehren remembers that as Kristy and Sarah described a workshop both were attending that week on anti-racist teaching, Lisa provided institutional context, including an empathetic reminder of the struggles the workshop leader had as a faculty member of color at a largely white institution in the ‘90s and forward. Lisa, ever our mentor, saw the complexity in people and situations. She congratulated and was encouraging to those in the circle starting new roles, naming their gifts: Kristy as Interim Director of First Year Writing, and Tim as Interim Director of the School.
My (Vicki’s) primary memory of the day was joy at seeing Lisa and witnessing how happy the gathering made her. Lisa and I had talked on the phone and emailed through Covid and the summer, but had not seen each other in person for a long time, even when Greg called me to come out and share their garden’s bounty. Being there in the rhetoric circle seemed to energize Lisa and delight her.
That golden afternoon, Lisa was very much her kind, supportive, and engaging self. She told stories of family and growing up in Ohio in a family of eleven children. Expressing gratitude to Greg for making her come, she said she wanted to be invited again. Everyone wanted to be invited again. We are all so grateful for that August afternoon. It all felt rather charmed—like the universe conspired so that we could see her this last time. We miss you, Lisa. It was a gift and an honor to be your colleagues and your friends.