Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Lewis Donohew: Friend, colleague is retiring
to ‘fishing,’ a worthy pursuit of serious study
My colleague and friend Phil Palmgreen is one of the smartest people I know. He remembers everything he has ever been exposed to and he knows how to recapture most of what he has learned in his lifetime. Now he is retiring, leaving behind him a body of work of the highest quality and a big hole in the faculty of our department.
Phil and I worked together for most of our careers. Early in my time at the University of Kentucky, he came into one of my classes while a senior English major and became interested in our field. He earned a master’s degree in communication while serving as my research assistant and then took courses in the Statistics Department while waiting for our proposal for a doctoral program to slowly make its way through the University’s multiple layers of screening.
In those early days we took a little different track to studying about how communication works. In one experiment we used an eye camera and a suitcase lie detector to track what persons with different personalities were looking at on a screen (sort of like a follow the bouncing ball movie) and to measure their reactions. To hold the head steady so the camera could track the movements accurately, we had to take impressions of the participants’ teeth with warmed dental wax, then mount these on a bite bar. Then our subjects had to bite into their very own tooth molds and view the materials on the screen. We got some very revealing results, but I don’t know if a human subjects committee would let us do that today.
By the time our Ph.D. program was finally approved, Phil had moved on to Michigan, earned a doctorate in communication, and was being considered for a faculty position at a prestigious school on the West Coast. By then I had committed the youthful mistake of becoming director of the school and I talked him into coming back to his home town and our department.
I’ve thought of claiming responsibility for making him what he is, but after he matured as a scholar it became difficult to determine who was the mentor and who was the mentee in any given situation. I think the truth of it is we worked together so closely there is no way to tell where one person’s ideas ended and another’s began. They fed off each other. We also knew each other’s thoughts so well that if one of us stumbled in mid-sentence of a presentation, the other could step in and finish it without missing a beat. Not that we didn’t disagree. The disagreements became so vehement sometimes new graduate students on our projects would think we were about to come to blows. Then, to the further amazement of the students, we’d cease firing and head out together for lunch. I don’t think we ever had an argument that ended in anger. And we always celebrated when the other won recognition.
So now Phil moves to his other area of serious study—fishing. He knows locations of the best fishing spots in this region, in North America, and maybe in the world. He knows what kinds of fish inhabit these spots, where they hang out, and the preferred water temperatures at each location. Maybe the reason I am so impressed with the fishing part of his knowledge is that this is an area in which I am especially unimpressive. The couple of times I have gone with him and watched him outthink the fish as we waded streams, I have lost lures in the overhanging trees while he was pulling in one fine fish after another—and then carefully removing the hooks and releasing them back into the wild.
So, dear friend Phil, here’s wishing you many years of a great retirement. And a bit of advice. Stick with the fishing, which you do well. Don’t do something nutty like starting a vineyard. But I’m sure you already know that.
Lewis Donohew retired from the University of Kentucky College of Communications in 1999 after nearly 35 years of service and having earned a national reputation as a communications scholar and researcher. Now down on his farm growing grapes and living close to the earth, he contemplates issues of the day from a lifetime of experience and a love of the land.