Think back to the day that you received your acceptance letter to Mr. Jefferson’s University. Do you remember the way you felt? If you were anything like me you were completely beside yourself, screaming with excitement. Can you remember the first person you called? I do. I called my Papaw Virgil, otherwise known as Paps. You see Paps wore the honor of honors many years ago, and I can remember sitting and listening to all of these fascinating stories and hoping that I too one day could be a Wahoo. When the day finally came, my fingers couldn’t dial fast enough. I can remember the way he answered the phone in confusion as to why I would be screaming so loudly and asking me to slow down. When I was finally able calm down and utter the words I could hear the excitement and pride in his voice as he congratulated me. I knew right then that I would never forget that day.
My Paps was an incredible man. He grew up 1 of 15 children in the coal mines of Wise Virginia and worked to pay his way through college. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met. He had the perfect ratio of wittiness and friendliness; he always made it a goal to get to know each and every person he came in contact with. He also had the ambition we are all taught to admire - never settling for anything less than what he has set his mind to. And because of this hard-work, he was very successful.
All who knew him loved him. You can see why I would look up to someone like this and aspire to follow in his footsteps. He always knew exactly what to say and offered constant words of encouragement throughout my first year. I can remember failing one of my first tests as a student here and being completely devastated. Calling him tear-stricken and discouraged, Paps reminded me that life is so much more than a test grade. It is merely a number and did not define me. He reminded me that it is okay to not know what I want in life and to change your mind every other day because everything finds a way to work in the end; we just have to follow along the course of life. I looked forward to my visits home so I could talk with him about all the exciting things happening around Grounds, my favorite classes here at the University, and simply how much I loved being a Wahoo. He would listen intently and pepper me with curious questions then enlighten me with his own stories about his time at here at Mr. Jefferson’s University. One of my favorites and perhaps one of the most interesting ones is how he hitchhiked his way all the way from Charlottesville to Wise. Or how he had to apply for a credit card when he got here – specifically so he could buy new suits. I quickly realized how blessed I was to have such an incredible person to learn from and share these experiences with
However, in July I lost my sweet Paps to cancer.
On July 10th of this year, after being hospitalized with what we thought had been persistent pneumonia, he was called into the doctor's office to receive the shocking news. He had stage IV lung cancer that had progressed too far. They were not sure there was much more they could do. My whole family entered a state of shock. It just couldn't be possible; Paps was a relatively healthy man for his age. How could he have cancer? It had to be some mistake.
After the initial shock wore off, Paps acted as if nothing had happened. He stayed his old fun, loving self until eventually the cancer ate away at his body. Day by day, he became sicker and sicker. He was hospitalized one final time before deciding to come home to finish his fight. In the time we had left with Paps we all stayed with him day in and day out. We wanted to relish the bittersweet, precious time we had left with him and learn every last thing he was willing to offer.
Paps lost his battle on July 30th, only 20 days after being diagnosed. 20 days is not a significant amount of time; in 480 precious house and less than 3 weeks, the disease overcame his body. Cancer has no remorse, and cancer works quickly.
Cancer took my fellow Wahoo. I now no longer have my Paps to swap stories with or complain to about our football team. It still isn't easy to not have him around for those constant words of encouragement or endless life lessons, but is it ever easy to lose a loved one? I relay because I think it is important to remember those who have lost their battle and honor those who are still fighting. i relay because it is rewarding to know you have made an impact in helping to change the outcome for those who will be diagnosed in the future. I relay for a world with more Wahoos and less cancer.