“The Kind of Man I Always Wanted to Be”
The theater department pulled out all the stops celebrating Professor Dwight Watson’s 36 years of teaching, directing, writing, and even acting at Wabash. Students, alumni, and professors produced two films, recited lines from a play, and read Dwight’s work to honor his time with them.
His faculty colleague and former student Associate Professor of Theater Michael Abbott ’83 offered a tribute, which we’ve excerpted here:
by Michael Abbott ’83
I could fill the air in this room with hyperbole about Dwight’s many talents. His many virtues. His exquisite character. But he would hate that. So I’ll tell you one plain thing about him. Dwight is the finest man, the best man I’ve ever known. He is the kind of man I’ve always wanted to be.
I believe we seek the things we need. I came to this College for men from a world of women. My father left when I was a boy and never much cared for me. I lived with my sister and mother, who had three sisters and no brothers. All of my teachers growing up were women. Nearly all my friends were girls. I had male friends, but I didn’t trust them.
Why, you may be wondering, did I come to Wabash, of all places? Because I had no money, and they gave me some.
Enter Dwight Watson. I met Dwight in the fall of 1981. I was an 18-year-old freshman, and he was a handsome, hip, just-moved-here-from L.A.-first-year professor 10 years older than me. I now see that I had what is known today as a man-crush. I suppose I still do.
There was another theater professor, Jim Fisher. I’ll spare you the contrasts between Jim and Dwight. But as my History Boys would say, I relished the contrast. Reveled in it. Yin and Yang. The rapier cut and thrust. It’s all about variety, sir.
Add to the mix a brilliant designer named Ken Kloth, and a beautiful young costume designer-in-training named Laura Connors. These young rocket-launchers became my whole world.
If you revel in our status as “The Seventh-best Theater Department in America,” you should know a few things. No theater professor had ever been tenured at Wabash when Dwight and Jim arrived here. Productions were extra-curricular. Dwight taught a Speech class to round out the department’s offerings.
They built this department, brick by brick you might say, teaching more classes and directing more productions than any of us are asked to manage today. When Jim left, Dwight lasered in on our mission and soon began doing things that would have been unthinkable in the age of Brigance, like being appointed Chair of Division II and being named LaFollette Distinguished Professor of Humanities.
We seek the things we need. What did I seek from Dwight? Or more truly, what did he know I needed? In the absence of anyone else to show me, Dwight taught me how to be a man without fear. How to live my principles. Many wonderful teachers taught me the liberal arts curriculum, but Dwight understood I needed more than that.
And so he gave it to me. And he has never stopped.
In the end, it’s always about love, isn’t it? The men in my childhood, and some later too, practiced a kind of transactional love. A love that expects a return on the investment. A love that comes from a dark place of need and suffering. This is the love I understood. It was all I knew.
Dwight knew a better way.
Have you ever seen Dwight with his boys? They’re not boys anymore, but they will always be to me. If it’s true that the measure of a father can be found in his children, Dwight is 10 feet tall. Did you know Dwight and Jamie never missed a single football game in the four years Evan was at Wooster? That’s a 10-hour drive there and back. While he was Division chair.
Have you seen the look on Dwight’s face when anyone utters the word Ellie? Don’t worry if you haven’t yet met Dwight’s granddaughter. He can hook you up with 5000 candid shots on his phone … if he can just learn to work the damn thing.
Have you ever just hung out with Dwight and Jamie at their house? It’s like a movie with a script by George S. Kaufman. They’re like a modern William Powell and Myrna Loy in a crazy Midwestern spin on the Thin Man movies. I always wonder when we leave, Do they keep this going after we’re gone? How cool would that be?!
The gift. What did Dwight give me?
He gave me love. And he didn’t ask for a receipt.
It really is that simple. How do I know? Typical of him, it’s not because he told me. Your main man Chekhov, Dwight—he would be proud. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
That’s what Dwight does. He shows us. Quietly. With diligence. No hyperbole. Just live it. And there you are.
—Professor Michael Abbott ’83
Professor Abbott’s tribute was presented as a play, complete with stage directions. Read the entire script, coming soon to WM Online.