When renowned OU Professor J. Rufus Fears passed away on Oct. 6, he left a tremendous heritage of teachings, lectures, writings, courses and wise lessons in his wake.
The real legacy of Fears, like with any great teacher, can be found only in looking at his students. I would know, as I am one.
There was no teacher who had a more profound impact on my life than Professor Fears. Quite simply, I would not be anywhere today without his influence. I know I am not alone in that sentiment; thousands of students could say the very same.
Just after his passing, OU President David Boren said Fears was “one of the greatest teachers in the history of our state.” In my experience, he was the greatest.
What made Fears the greatest is both easy and difficult to explain. First, he had a way of making history come alive for students. As a professor of classics, it was his job to make students interested in names and events that would normally seem dusty or uninteresting. Professor Fears could re-enact an ancient Greek battle that would make you feel as if you were in the very moment he described.
Secondly, Professor Fears was the best orator, but used it wisely. Through his lectures, he could turn the most unpatriotic student among us into a minuteman, ready to take up arms in defense of his country. His speeches, some of which are viewable online, put on display the warmth and wisdom of this man. He always elevated the listener, bringing out our better angels.
Also, Professor Fears never taught mere facts and dates. “The Internet is full of information,” he would say. But the key is to weave together than information into knowledge. Then we must take that last step and apply it, which is true wisdom.
Socrates and Jesus, according to Professor Fears, are the two greatest teachers in history and the two he most revered. Professor Fears was a believer and not afraid to talk about Jesus Christ, all while he walked in the tall cotton of academic circles and taught at a secular university.
I recall the look of joy on his face as he talked about competing in “sword drill” (what we now call “Bible drill”) growing up at a Baptist church in Georgia. I know his faith had a remarkable impact on his teaching and his family.
Some of his favorite books of the Bible were Exodus, Job, Proverbs and the Gospel of Mark. Professor Fears was a staunch defender of the historicity of the New Testament. He frequently spoke in churches in Oklahoma and other parts of the country. Fears, too, subscribed to the Baptist Messenger and took part in a Messenger radio interview in 2012 on the topic of the prayer of George Washington at Valley Forge, an event he believed to have taken place.
Finally, Professor Fears cared about the lives and direction of his students. Many would come to his office for advice, not merely academic but for life. It is with a deep sadness that I learned of the passing of Professor Fears, whom I consider my mentor.
About 10 years ago, I was asked by Oklahoma Today magazine to write an article about Professor Fears from the perspective of a student. I enthusiastically took to the task, as would any of his students. It is with even more of a sense of appreciation, admiration and, frankly, awe of his abilities and life that I write this.
Mankind is never at its best more than when it reflects the character and life of Christ. In giving his life to becoming a great teacher, Professor Fears became like the Great Teacher, our Lord. In doing so, his took on a noble calling that will bless throughout the ages.
P.S. Be sure to read the interview with Professor Fears from early 2012 on pg. 7.