I wish Ann Marie Lipinski had attended the Larry Hawkins Memorial Service last Saturday at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel.
If she had, she would have experienced the outpouring of love and affection and respect from hundreds of family, friends, athletes, students and colleagues that filled the magnificent sanctuary to overflowing.
Lipinski is the former editor-in-chief of the Chicago Tribune who is the newly appointed Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. Among her duties, I am told, is to determine the future of the Office of Special Programs, which was founded in 1968 when Hawkins was hired to run it. It was (and still is) designed to help young people, particularly African-Americans.
In hiring Lipinski, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said she will "oversee a broad portfolio that includes the University's engagement in Chicago Public Schools."
She is charged with providing leadership, coordination and voice in support of an ambitious array of initiatives across the University, in areas such as pre-kindergarten to 12th grade education, urban health, social services and programs for children at risk.
Sounds like the Office of Special Programs to me. But at the Hawkins Memorial Service, some of Larry's old colleagues expressed concern over the future of the Office of Special Programs, that there was a sense that the University was considering dropping it.
In the last 40 years, "the Program," as it is called, has mentored and tutored and counseled and helped to send thousands of high school graduates from the South Side to college. It has produced dozens of physicians, lawyers, professors, judges, teachers, bankers and businessmen.
It took kids out of the housing projects, out of Altgeld Gardens and Robert Taylor Homes, and showed them what the world was like and how to live in it.
Sure, Larry Hawkins is irreplaceable. He devoted every waking minute to his kids. They were devoted to him and he never let them down. He taught them discipline, values and the importance of a good education. He also gave them self-esteem and taught them how to respect others.
But "the Program" must go on. Larry left behind a dedicated and knowledgeable staff of instructors and administrators who grew up helping kids and are eager to carry on Larry's mission. The University of Chicago, one of the great educational institutions in the world, can't let them down.