Hook Story: Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life

HOOKABRATION_Taraphoto

2009: Hook on campus at St. Edward’s University. Photo taken by fellow biologist, protege, and friend,Tara Maginnis during her Darwin Days event.

Last night, I hosted a mini Hookabration, a celebration of Hook’s life, for the entomologists who are in Austin for the annual ESA conference.  Five different hymenopterists shared heartfelt stories of their relationship with Hook — how he influenced their lives, what he meant to them as a friend and colleague — with 30 other entomologists in attendance.   This mini celebration was a smaller version of the larger Hookabration which we had only a few days after Hook passed away in early September.

One of the testimonials given at the original Hookabration was from a former colleague of Hook’s, Megan Murphy.   Megan had friends laughing and picturing Hook at his finest, ornery self.  Although I cannot share every testimonial or story given at both Hookabrations, I can share those that were submitted during my Call for Hook Stories.   It’s time for me to begin sharing those with you.  Enjoy …

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Dr. Hook is Ruining My Life by Megan Murphy

The first time I heard mention of Dr. Hook’s name was from a tearful student who came to my office to ask if there was any way she could withdraw from his freshman Biology class after the official drop period.  She said he was too hard. She was convinced that staying in his class would screw up her otherwise perfect GPA, which would keep her from getting into graduate school, which would limit her future career options, which would diminish her earning potential, which would ruin her life.  I will never forget her wailing, “Dr. Hook is ru-in-ing my liiiiiiiiife!!!!”

I worked in the St. Edward’s admissions office and learned to keep a fresh box of Kleenex in my desk for post-midterm revelations such as these. I don’t have any statistics to back it up, but it seemed to me like Al Hook stories were responsible for a disproportionate share of the freshman tissue usage.

Somewhere in the blurry early years of my 14-year tenure at SEU I finally met Dr. Hook. By then he had become a mythical creature in my mind.  Part man, part bug, and according to my tissue count, as heartless as the Tin Man. It was at one of those obligatory faculty/staff gatherings in the Maloney Room (the ones you really only go to because there’s free food), that I walked up to him and blurted out something like, “You’re Allan Hook, right? Do you think maybe you could stop making my freshmen cry?” He flashed me that exaggerated/open-mouthed “how dare you” look and then just started laughing …sort of loud….at me. He suggested I consider recruiting students with stronger backgrounds in the sciences, and then just walked away.

How we became friends after that less than gracious introduction I’m unsure, but over time we did.  Looking back, I think I can attribute our friendship to two things:

1)     Hook is funny (I’m a sucker for funny), and in spite of his crustiness he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. Hook didn’t seem to mind that I called him the Orkin Man when he dressed in head to toe khaki like an exterminator. Obviously he wasn’t too caught up in what anyone thought of his fashion sense because he swam laps in the school pool in a bathing suit that was so famously awful it had a name  — “The Rat.”  Over time I warmed up to his grumpy irreverence, his fascination with wasp copulation, and his creatively profane language.  In fact, I kind of liked it. All my life I’ve heard people say, “nobody likes a smart ass.” Well I disagree.  Some of us actually do.

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Megan Murphy with her fossilized scallop shell and dinosaur bone from Hook.

2)     Hook gave me two of my most prized possessions. Everyone at St. Ed’s knew that I collected found objects. Whenever fellow employees went on vacation, I asked them to bring me back something they found. I got everything from tiny jars of sand to pennies, but my favorites were the rocks and seashells. By the end of my employment I had amassed such a large collection of objects that there was little room left on my desk for anything but a phone and a Kleenex box. The found objects all ended up in a box somewhere, except for Hook’s contributions: a fossilized dinosaur bone and a fossilized scallop shell. They have been on display in my home ever since, and if my house were to catch on fire they would be among about five things I’d grab as I fled out the door.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should probably add that over the years there were far more students who bragged about surviving Hook’s classes than there were freshmen begging to get out of them.  Hook was a right of passage for a lot of science majors. They liked that he made evolution interesting and that he was curiously animated when he lectured on the topic of mating.  They groused about his tough grading but took pride in working along side him on his projects.  Hook had many devotees who credited him with preparing them for graduate education, research, and careers in science-related fields. I’d like to say that all his good deeds were somehow the result of my repeated requests that he consider taking a kinder and gentler approach to student advising……. but nobody likes a smart ass.

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WATCH YNN AUSTIN interview about Hook http://youtu.be/OmFFv0hfYbI
READ about Hook Wild Basin Endowment
LIKE Wild Basin on Facebook http://on.fb.me/17tvEg1

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