The Dean and his secretary

Dean Mauser

From the internet (it appears as if it was from the seminary’s directory)

Two weeks ago, I posted a memoir about one of my seminary professors who had been a tank commander in the German army in World War II. I mentioned he wasn’t my only professor who spent time on the other side during that terrible war. The other was Ulrich Mauser, the dean of the seminary. He was a kind and gentle man. I only took one class with him, a New Testament survey class. But when another professor, Dr. Kelly, had medical issues while teaching on the Book of Acts, Mauser took over and finished out the term. I essentially had him as a professor for a term and a half. But I got to know him in other ways, too.

Unlike von Waldow, Mauser didn’t talk about the war, at least not around me. I remember him mentioning his involvement once. We were sitting together in the dining room at lunch. He sat among a group of students and there may have been other professors. Somehow, the topic of the war came up. Mauser recalled being a student in Germany during the war. As Germany needed more and more soldiers, he received a notice every year to report for a physical in preparation for being drafted into the armed forces. But because of health issues and poor eyesight, he always received a deferment and would return to school. However, in late 1944, according to Dr. Mauser, things had gotten so bad they did care that he couldn’t see. With his thick eyeglasses, without which he was nearly blind, they assigned him to an anti-aircraft flack gun on top of a building in Berlin. As most of the air attacks came at night, there wasn’t even a way to aim. They just pointed the guns up into the sky and shot in the general direction of the drone of engines. 

While he wasn’t really involved in combat, the war had an affect upon Dr. Mauser. His family home was destroyed by a bomb. He also became very interested in the Biblical understanding of peace. His last book, The Gospel of Peace, focused on this life-long theme. 

Mauser’s studied at the University of Tubingen in Germany where he received his doctorate, writing a dissertation on Martin Luther. He also spent time at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he met his wife. After his schooling, as a young pastor in post-war Germany, he served in a congregation that mostly consisted of displaced people. 

My best memory of Dr. Mauser came after a disappointing relationship with Debbie, his secretary. Below, I posted a piece I wrote in 2014, after learning of Debbie’s death from cancer. After Debbie became engaged to someone else, Dr. Mauser invited me out to lunch. We went to a restaurant in Shadyside. As if he was my pastor, he was concerned with my emotional state. Ironically, at the time I was on the top of the world, having essentially completed the Appalachian Trail. While he never appeared as an outdoor type of person, Mauser was interested in my experience along the trail. I learned how it tied to his work on the theme of wilderness in scripture. 

When I graduated from Pittsburgh in 1990, Dr. Mauser was winding up his tenure at the school. He had moved to America in 1959, to serve as a chaplain at Oregon State University. In 1964, he began teaching at Louisville Theological Seminary. In 1977, he was appointed a professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Seminary and became Dean in 1981. Turning 65 in 1990, and he faced mandatory retirement as was the seminary’s practice at the time. So, Dr. Mauser accepted an appoint at Princeton, where he taught six more years before returning to Pittsburgh for his final years. 

I last saw Dr. Mauser at a Presbyterian Coalition meeting in Orlando Florida in the fall of 2001, just a few weeks after 911. I had not seen him since graduation. He appeared delighted to run into me and we later shared a meal together. He died in 2008. 

Ulrich W. Mauser’s obituary in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Debbie, the Dean’s secretary

Written in 2014, after learning of Debbie’s death from cancer: 

A photo I took in May 1987

Debbie was beautiful. She turned heads with her broad smile, big eyes, and hardy laugh. She wore flowing dresses with heels that clicked and gave shape to her calves. And she was the Dean’s secretary. In my first year of seminary, I never thought she would have been interested in me. Then, a month or so before school ended for the summer, she invited me to over for Sunday evening’s dinner at her place. Wanting to make a good impression, I brought along a bottle of wine, Pouilly-Fuisse. I learned she seldom drank, but she seemed impressed and suggested we open the bottle and celebrate. Of course, she had no corkscrew. She suggested she might borrow one for a neighbor, but I told her I thought I had a solution. I ran out to my car. Ever the Boy Scout, I had a Swiss-army knife with a corkscrew attachment in my glove compartment.    

On Easter Sunday, I was invited to dinner with her family on Pittsburgh’s Southside. When we arrived at her parents’ home, her brothers were watching a documentary on a race car driver, Elliott Forbes-Robinson.  Although I had never been a big fan of racing, I knew him. When I was working for the Boy Scouts, he was an assistant Scoutmaster on a troop on Lake Norman. I recalled the story of meeting him, at a scout camp. When he told me he was a race car driver, I asked if he raced at Hickory speedway. Hickory was a step up from the dirt tracks of the South, but most of the drivers were still amateurs. “No,” he said, “I have not raced there.” “Where do you race?” I asked. He started listing off an impressive list of cities with Cam-Am and such races. I stood there thinking, “Yeah, right, and I’m Daniel Boone.” I later learned he really was a race car driver, although at the time he didn’t drive NASCAR. He did drive those fancy cars and was one of the top drivers in the world. He had a boy in scouts and as he wasn’t racing that week, had come to camp with his son’s troop. Telling the story, Debbie’s brothers learned that I really wasn’t a racing fan, but they were impressed that I had personally met one of the greats. 

Over the next few weeks, we began having lunch together in the dining hall and went out every weekend. I suggested a Saturday afternoon baseball game and she was up for it. When I arrived to pick her up, she handed me two tickets! I didn’t know what to say, but as a poor student was thankful. Then I looked at the seats and was humbled. Her brother worked for one of the high-end hotels in Pittsburgh and they had tickets that no one had claimed so he gave them to Debbie for us to enjoy. We sat directly behind home plate, five rows up. I never had such good seats for a major league game. It’s easy to love a girl whose brother arranges to cover the expenses of a date.  

Later that evening, Debbie and I walked up a hill and held hands as we watched the sun set. I felt as if I was the luckiest man in the world.

Debbie was close to her family and on another weekend, she and her brothers had given their mother an evening ride in a balloon across Southwestern Pennsylvania. When the mother got in the basket with a few other sightseers and a pilot, we raced along the countryside following the balloon until they finally set down in a cow pasture and we retrieved her mother. This would be a lot easier today, with cell phones, but this was 1987.

The day I left school at the end of the semester, we had breakfast together at a local King’s Restaurant. I wanted to do something special and had purchased some of her favorite perfume, hoping that as she used it, she would remember me. She seemed pleased and we even talked about her meeting up with me in Delaware Water Gap as I hiked the Appalachian Trail. Although we were not in a committed relationship, we talked about picking up where we were at in September.

After breakfast, I drove to my parents in North Carolina and a week later, started my summer hike from Virginia to Maine. At first, she wrote and seemed excited when I called, but as I continued to hike, I heard less and less from her. I knew something was up. Even though I had started hiking with the thoughts of coming back to her arms, I realized this was not going to be the case. When I arrived back at school, I was on cloud nine, having just finished my summer hike, essentially completing the Appalachian Trail completed (I still had a 25-mile section down south to complete). That first day back everyone seemed concerned about how I was going to take being dropped, but I had given up on her mid-way through the summer. I learned she had connected with someone at a wedding (they may had known each other before) and was engaged. One of the kindness things that happened was the Dean inviting me out to lunch. He, too, was concerned with how I was handling things, but we mostly talked about my hike as my head was still in the mountains. After a summer of hiking, our short romance seemed light-years away.

A few years ago, Debbie sent me a message and a friendship request via Facebook. A quarter century had passed as she left her position as the Dean’s secretary shortly after I’d returned from hiking the trail. We chatted a few times and I learned her marriage had been horrible and she had spent most of her life on her own, but that she was blessed with a couple of boys who are now adults. She apologized for having treated me horribly. I thanked her for the apology but told her my life had continued and was going well. Then she told me about the breast cancer. Over the years since that chat, I would occasionally learn through Facebook about how each new treatment was less effective. But she was strong in her faith and always maintained a positive outlook, but at times she’d ask for prayers, and I would pray. In early May, the disease finally took her, and I found myself shedding tears. She was a beautiful woman who was so proud of her boys (her sons and her brothers). I felt a small piece of their pain.   

16 Replies to “The Dean and his secretary”

  1. Thank you for sharing two such poignant memories, Jeff. Both stories really touched my heart.

  2. Some good memories there, Jeff. I have some old memories like that, but my guys are deceased too.
    Facebook is great for catching up, but not when they are gone….

    1. It does cause a pause to realize the people who are no longer here on earth with us. I remember when I learned my first girlfriend, the first girl I kissed, had died, which was several years before I heard of her death. I was shocked at my emotional response at someone I hadn’t seen at the time in nearly 30 years.

    1. Yes, it especially is difficult when I have moved around so much during my adult life. Of my professors from seminary, I have really only have one with whom I stay in contact. Most of them are deceased.

  3. I’m happy for you, that you reconnected with Debbie before she died. I detest most social media, but begrudgingly admit some good things have come from it.

  4. I enjoyed reading about both of these people from your past, Jeff. I find it interesting that you had two professors who’d been on the other side of WWII. Unlike the first man (who did remind me of Colonel Klink!), Dean Mauser looks like a gentle soul.

  5. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories, Jeff. Even though it has been a few years, I still want to send my deepest condolences to you about the loss of your friends.

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