Sunday night, I found out that my former professor, Dr. Polly Stewart, had died.
I’m not the most qualified person to eulogize Polly, but everyone should know what kind of person she was so they realize what those of us who did know her realize: the world is worse now.
She wasn’t cool in the conventional sense. Polly was the person who would wear sandals and socks. But she was cool in a better, more lasting way. She was what is referred to in the Bible as “eshet chayil.” Polly was a woman of valor.
She lived and taught in my hometown (Salisbury) for 30-some years. She came out long before Ellen did, long before it was safe to do so. Salisbury was a small town and not particularly open-minded. But Polly created a community for Eastern Shore GLBT people.
I came out when I was in college. Polly was a huge help and I was incredibly out on campus because she had blazed that trail for me.
She was the adviser for the college “gay group” and took several of us on a field trip to DC for the Millennium March. I’m pretty sure if for nothing else, she earned a place in heaven for taking a bunch of gay and bi kids in their late teens and early twenties out in public.
But she DID do so much more than that. She was a huge resource in every group she was a part of and it’s impossible for me to express the impact she had on my life.
She (metaphorically) held my hand after my heart was stomped into pieces by several different women over the course of several different semesters. When I was looking for my biological family, she always had a word of encouragement. And she gave me my first book “for review.” It was, of course, about folklore. Because as much as she adored all the groups she was a part of, folklore was her true love.
She was tremendously brave, incredibly kind and both smart and clever. She made every room better just by being in it and she made everyone she met better versions of themselves because they knew her.
She was a woman of valor. I hope to grow up to be half as amazing and compassionate as she was.