-- by Mike Murray
To the world, Jerzy Janusz ("George") Maciuszko was an intellectual: a librarian-scholar of Polish heritage -- one whose writings and cultural accomplishments attracted widespread notice and recognition. To me, he was a gentle, genial neighbor.
I met George after my wife and I moved into our current home, more than seventeen years ago. George and his wife Kathy (and their daughter, Christina) lived four doors down. George was already approximately eighty years old, and was well into his retirement.
I came to know the Maciuszkos the way I did so many others in the neighborhood: through their canine companion (Prince). Although I cannot recall my first encounter with George, I imagine that it occurred while I was out walking Maggie (our Shepherd / Collie / Beagle mix). I am also fairly certain that I, for some time, referred to George and Kathy as "Prince's people." (That's the way it is in the dog community. We humans -- initially, at least -- identify each other by our associations with our critters.)
It was my wife, Pam, who eventually informed me of George and Kathy's true identities. They were both, as were we, former employees of Baldwin-Wallace College. George and Kathy had each been professional members of B-W's library staff. George had, in fact, served for four years as Ritter Library's director.
I'm sure that the name "Dr. Maciuszko" rang a bell for me, inasmuch as my first job at B-W was as campus mailman. In that capacity, I sorted and delivered mail -- and I certainly would have come across his name many times (even if he had already retired, since correspondence was routinely received for senior position-holders who had long-since moved on) .
I remember just how difficult it was for George when Prince died. My wife likes to say that dogs are "passports to the neighborhood," in that their need for daily exercise gets their human companions out and about, too. And those frequent forays lead to friendships that might not otherwise exist.
And so it was with George. He was, for me, the dignified, elegant gentleman who walked Prince, and with whom I exchanged pleasantries while out with my own pooch. When Prince's life came to an end, so, too, did George's strolls. Thereafter, I occasionally ran into him -- usually when he was out in his front yard -- but our encounters became less frequent.
George was soft-spoken and friendly. And, although he seemed quietly contented in his life with his wife, daughter, and dog, there was something unmistakably melancholy behind his solemn eyes.
There was an obvious depth to George. He seemed to know things. Things that most people didn't. Things that most people were better off not knowing (not intimately, anyway). George seemed wise in ways that went well beyond academic achievement. "Book learning," it seemed to me, did not begin to account for his advanced state of awareness.
My wife was familiar with parts of George's past, specifically with his suffering during World War II as a prisoner of war for an extended period of time (more than five years). But I was not. All I knew was that, behind the reasonably cheerful exterior he presented the world, there seemed to exist a soul that had known sobering discomfort. Discomfort that left him a profoundly serious man.
Still, George never spoke to me of his troubles. Much as he did with respect to his many achievements, he kept his woes to himself. I saw nothing in George of the need for either sympathy or acknowledgment.
Although he had more reason than most to steer conversations toward himself and his fascinating life, he never did. Instead, his habit was to graciously inquire about how others were getting along, about the ups and downs in their lives.
I suppose that's what I'll remember most about George: his graciousness and his humility, his utter lack of pretension. He was a man who had endured extreme hardship, and who had subsequently gone on to accomplish great things. George had more reason than most to complain and to boast. But he did neither.
If you previously knew nothing of his achievements, or of his trials and tribulations, you likely learned nothing of them from casual conversations with him. If you were, as was I, ignorant of the details of his remarkable life -- if you knew him only as a decent, gentle man -- well, that was just fine with him.
As will countless others, I will miss him.
Copyright © 2011 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.