Life Member Stories – Ian

Armed units of the National Guard on campus, water shortages in eateries in town (we had to actually ask for a glass of water), too cold winters and too hot summers; what made this limey (originally from London, England) become a life member of the University of North Carolina GAA? I cannot promise any one outstanding reason: I won no athletic honours, I was a laid back and uncommitted student who nobody would have noticed, or if they had, would not have predicted as a likely future Life Member. What was it about UNC that so influenced this short, shy and unassuming student with a heavy English accent and a heavy disapproval of US politics of the time in general, and in particular an antipathy to the use of armed forces in overseas countries in particular.

My first year at Chapel Hill was a time of growing up: my first love, my first realisation that there was more to life than Chemistry and Physics (with apologies to Drs. Jicha and Davies), my first exposure to racial discrimination and hatred. So much had I to learn!

In my second year I grew up : I was now 18 and could buy beer. I took a psychology course or two and changed my major to that subject. I was enlightened by many people: staff particularly but also by fellow students who had strengths I lacked and weaknesses I could understand. I began to enjoy the whole experience of Chapel Hill: concerts, basketball games, maybe I even understood American Football a bit more. I was taken to a baseball game, but it was nothing like cricket and I remained unenlightened. But the range of expertise and the dedication and especially, the enthusiasm, of my teachers touched me and I too became concerned and committed.

In my junior year I thought Carolina was the greatest University and Chapel Hill truly the “Southern Part of Heaven”, as number plates on the front of cars proclaimed. Every course I took, every professor or lecturer I met had something to make me like and respect them and the academic and social experiences I was privileged to experience. I think I should mention in particular Dr. Don Jicha in the Chemistry Faculty, Dr. Tom Stumpf in the English Department, and Dr. Herb Bodmin in History but more especially in his and his lovely wife Taffy’s support in trying to start a sailing club in land-bound Chapel Hill.

Most of all though is the debt I owe to many people in the Psychology Faculty, most especially Dr Robert T Brown in the Developmental Psychology department, to Professor Harriet Rheingold (and her secretary, who typed my thesis, such was my lack of useful skills) but also Terry Hall, and Vicki Kowlowitz, post-grads at the time but no doubt eminent in their own fields since. Somewhere in that hectic time I also experienced personal heartbreak and both my own and other people’s personal and emotional distress. I grew up!

I knew by the beginning of my Senior year that unless I made a big mistake, I had got into Med School in Glasgow, Scotland. I was looking forward enormously to moving on, but as the time passed (each year went by quicker than the last) I began to realise the tremendous effect that the University and Chapel Hill had on me. Perhaps part of the attraction was the relatively liberal thinking one experienced at Chapel Hill ( I know now that many of my friends found that more difficult, but I revelled in it). I felt, as Bertrand Russell described in his experience of Cambridge, an intellectual and personal honesty that was rare in our previous experiences. I would very much like to think that I have reflected some of what UNC taught me, both intellectually and emotionally in my career as a Child Psychiatrist in the UK.

So that is it. No different from many other undergrads finding their feet I imagine, but an experience that changed my life, my attitudes, my personal understanding of myself and others. I am sure I am in consequence a better and possibly a more likeable and wiser person than any other experience (excepting my parent’s early influences) I have had before or since. How could I not become a life member?

Ian Stewart ’72 | Life Member 42,240 | Winchester, England