Like countless others in speech pathology and audiology, I came to feel that I knew something of Dr. Van Riper through an early edition of his pioneering introductory textbook. And I know that I am but one of many others for whom his writings were an early factor in firming my resolve to become a speech therapist.
Then, in the early 1960s, I found myself at his alma mater, the University of Iowa, and -- much to my surprise -- also found myself with the rather intimidating responsibility of supervising the school practicum experience of several under- graduate students, one of whom was his eldest daughter, Cathy Van Riper. As a consequence, I was told later, he also began to hear about me (not necessarily in always flattering terms) before we actually met.
My next and still clear recollection of this revered giant dates from the spring of 1963 when it was my privilege to meet his wife, Catharine, as well as him, during a brief visit to Kalamazoo for a job interview. Katy's warm kindness, the sight and smell of blooming lilacs along the long driveway to the Van Riper farmhouse, are as fresh and as cherished in my mind today as they were when I returned to Iowa City to share with my wife, Jackie, my excitement at the prospect that she and I and our infant son, Doug, might -- if the job were offered -- soon be moving to Kalamazoo.
Over the intervening years I came to know 'Dr. Van' as a supportive mentor but demanding boss (who nevertheless insisted that the three members of his faculty vacate their offices and the campus by noon on Friday) and as a clinician whose remarkable success in treating stuttering was evident on virtually a daily basis as he worked with clients from around the world. On occasion, I observed him also performing as a zany and unpredictable classroom teacher whose antics and whose obvious caring endeared him to generation after generation of students.
As many of his contemporaries would verify (not without a tinge of envy), he also was a man who detested-and largely managed to avoid-any tasks which smacked even remotely of university administration. At the same time he could be, and often was, an unabashed manager of campus politics when he deemed it necessary to become involved.
I remember him as an avid fisher- man anxious to share with others the joys of fly-fishing and able to remain patient even while extracting from his own shirt sleeve or from the brim of his hat the badly cast fly of a novice born and bred on the dry plains of Nebraska.
Most importantly, though, I knew 'Doctor Van" as a compassionate and sensitive person who seldom failed to recognize or seek to ease another's pain-- but who also never shirked from difficult decisions or from severing an umbilical cord when he felt it was time to do so. I knew him as a man with many of the human paradoxes common to us all but with an uncommon humanness; as a man who loved to play -- perhaps more than most of us--but whose seemingly inexhaustible energies were focused more consistently and unerringly than any of ours on leaving this world a bit better off, a bit happier than he had found it.
In short, he lived, and urged his students and colleagues to live, in ways intended to have positive and enduring effects. In the words he often used himself, he "played billiards with eternity"-- and with great success, based on the widespread esteem for this person that will linger on for years to come.