Satan cannot find,
Nor can his Watch Fiends find it;
but the industrious find
This Moment & it multiply,
& when it once is found
It renovates every Moment of the Day
if rightly placed.
William Blake - Milton
Dr. Robert Dunham was a professor in the English Department at Simon Fraser University from 1966 until his untimely death from AIDS in 1990. An eloquent and passionately committed teacher, he brought the Romantic poets to life for many students, instilling in them a love of poetry. Because of his dedication to the teaching of literature, he won the SFU Teacher of Excellence Award in 1986, and the prestigious 3M Teaching Fellowship in 1988.
Sitting in Rob's class for the first time in January 1987, I remember thinking that there was no place on earth I would rather be than in that room listening to him. He did indeed instill a deeper love of poetry in me and a continuing love of the Romantic poets.
A little later, as a graduate student, I had many opportunities to talk about poetry and life with Rob. As his AIDS progressed, his students gathered around him, initially I'm sure, in some determined attempt to shield him from the disease. Later, when he was nearer death, we spent much time helping with the many mundane tasks of life and talking endlessly about poetry, which seemed to ease his mental pain, at least.
I can never truly express the love and admiration I had for this man. He was so passionate about poetry and teaching, so charming, elegant, and generous. Even today, nearly twenty years after his death, I think of him every time I read or teach poetry.
There are only a very few individuals who deeply mark one's life. Rob Dunham marked mine.
Today is World AIDS Day, a day to remember all of those lost too young to this terrible affliction, a day to celebrate the advances that lengthen the lives of many, and a time to remind everyone that the fight is not over.
I leave you with one of Rob Dunham's favourite songs - "A Change is Gonna Come," by Sam Cooke. The change involving life-prolonging drugs has come since Rob's death in 1990, but there are still significant changes that we must bring about.