Paul Lagace, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
September 12, 2014
We come together today to recall and pay tribute to a person who touched our lives in many different ways and yet in some common ways. In our recollection and sharing of these thoughts, we bring forward the meaning of this person to each of us and to our community. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts of the person who I came to know as “Chief Jim”.
In order to properly relay these thoughts, I need to paint a somewhat different picture of the person speaking here with you today…… I arrived at MIT from Maine as a freshman 40 years ago this fall. I soon discovered that I had much to learn, and to this day don’t believe I will ever stop learning here. Yet at the same time, I found that there were a diversity of very willing and quite capable teachers here. They were, of course, in the classrooms, they were in the dorms – housemasters, resident “tutors”, and upperclassmen, they worked as cooks and staff in the dorm dining hall I worked in. And as I spent more time at MIT, I met and learned so very much from the array of teachers. However, there was one person with whom my first meeting I did not look forward to in any way and was not thinking of finding a teacher when I walked into that office on the second floor in the front of DuPont that morning of my sophomore year.
I will leave the details aside (they may still be in CP records), but let’s just say that I involved myself in a number of other ways of discovering new things as many of our students have and continue to do. So that day I was called in to meet with the Chief of Police. As I sat in the waiting area, I had no idea what to expect, but I certainly did not imagine what would transpire. When I walked in and was greeted and asked to sit and the door was closed behind me, the tension only mounted. But then it was suddenly relieved as the person who sat across from me began asking me questions about who I was as a person, where I was from, and similar items. Leaving aside the specifics of the conversation, I still won’t leave aside that there was a rather stern message that was delivered. It was made quite clear where one crosses a line and makes a mistake. Yet, the message was delivered with such a personal concern, that I never looked at it as being disciplined, but only as being properly taught. Yes, I had found another important teacher, and not in an office that I had expected to find one.
That was, by no means, my only interaction with Chief Jim, but those interactions did change in time as to their purpose and to some extent our roles. There were interactions to enable social gatherings, and to work to address those various items that arise in a community such as ours. Throughout those efforts, whether directly with Chief Jim or with those working with him, there was always a clear dedication to the MIT community – allowing it to grow and explore and be itself, yet always working to assure its safety, and in caring for all those individuals who together were the community.
As I found myself growing in who I was and in my roles here, I was also so fortunate to be able to look on this person as a colleague. Yet although those interactions had a very different root with different defined roles, in some other ways, those roles never did change. He was always so willing to be the teacher and to help and to guide. And he always showed that personal concern for you whenever there was that interaction, whatever that might be. And those characteristics served our community so very well as Chief Jim helped to teach our evolving community so much during his years as Chief here. While there was always the need to draw lines of yes and no and work to achieve the base task, these were always worked with a concern for the individual and a concern for the community. Those basic values lay much of the foundation that one sees in our MIT Police Force today. There have been changes as society and the associated needs have demanded, yet I believe it is in those changes where the basic values still shine through.
Even to this day, in dealing with members of our Police, I still sometimes see that certain smile coming from that office on the second floor of DuPont. And with that I hope you will join me today in returning that smile to someone who contributed so much to each and to all, and in that, simply saying: “Thank you, Chief Jim……”