The Enduring Gift of Wayne Knoll
Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, December 12, 2013 14:12
It was with a deeply saddened heart that I learned of the passing of Wayne Knoll. He had the single most profound influence on me in my freshman year at Georgetown and forever affected my views on faith, women, love, service, poetry and much more. But on top of all that, Wayne played the key role in one of the strangest incidents and periods of my life.
It was the spring semester of 1974, and I was enrolled in Wayne’s poetry class. He was more brilliant and captivating than anyone I had met before, and he brought poetry to life in a way that made every class a tantalizing experience. I couldn’t wait to get to his class to see how it would turn out. It was midterm time, and after a study review with Wayne, he challenged the class to a game of basketball. We played for three hours, and it was thrilling to be playing with a Jesuit and a professor. In those moments, Wayne taught us to treat others with respect and as equals, regardless of the role they played in your life. Afterward, with my arms full of books, I ran to the library to study some more. I “cleverly” decided to hurdle a chain on the road, but that was the last thing I remember about the day.
The next morning, I woke up and looked around the room. I was in pain: My head ached, my right eyebrow was heavily stitched and my right shoulder was immobile. If that wasn’t enough, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t remember anything — who I was or how I got to where I was. There was a phone next to the bed, I reached for it and dialed the only number that came to mind. Wayne answered the phone. “Hello,” he said.
I responded, “I don’t know who you are. As a matter of fact, I don’t know who I am, but I know your number, so can you tell me what is going on?”
“Well Tom,” Wayne started (at which point I realized my name was Tom). “You are in the Georgetown Hospital, you had an accident. Relax, you will be OK, and I will come by to see you in two hours after my morning class.”
As expected, my professor was true to his word. He showed up and calmly explained the entire incident from the evening before. Imagine, he had stayed with me at the hospital until midnight.
The next two weeks were among the strangest in my life. The day I returned from the hospital hundreds of my classmates came for a visit after dinner. Wayne had a hand in telling everyone to come visit me and came to the party himself. Flashes of memory returned each day, but how and why they were important was lost to me; Wayne checked in daily and filled in all the blanks, patiently articulating every one of his responses to my questions.
Wayne and I were attached at the hip for the rest of the semester. There was no topic that was too taboo or too abstract for him to contemplate. We talked about women, sex, God, Jesuit life, married life, the meaning of life, why I couldn’t get a date and endless other topics. I was only one student, and — in retrospect — I was exhausting. Wayne never seemed to think so, and I believe to this day that God blessed me with the gift of Wayne Knoll for that semester.
I regret that I didn’t stay more closely in touch with Wayne as the years went by. We would catch up every so often, with a note or in person. When visiting Georgetown alone, I would frequently go to his office just to see his nameplate on the door and say a prayer for him.
Over the years, I realized that Wayne’s gift was for the new freshman at Georgetown and the next generation. His gift was for the next person who needed him, for the next person who had an accident and for the next person he touched in class and in life. I’m positive that over the 41 years he was at Georgetown, different versions of my story were played out hundreds and hundreds of times.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote in “In Memoriam A.H.H.:”
A shade falls on us like the dark
From little cloudlets on the grass,
But sweeps away as out we pass
To range the woods, to roam the park,
When a prominent person in one’s life passes, his shade is swept away. With the passing of Wayne Knoll, in all the roles he played in life and certainly for the students and alumni of Georgetown, there is substantially less shade on campus. God bless Wayne Knoll. God knows we were blessed by his presence.
Tom Bianco graduated from the Georgetown School of Business in 1977.