Tribute to Adrian Teo
In Loving Memory and Honor of Adrian Teo, Associate Professor of Psychology
By Noelle Wiersma, '90, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences
Feb. 5, 2016, Memorial Service at Seeley Mudd Chapel
It is my great privilege to share with you, on behalf of my psychology colleagues, some words of remembrance and honor for Dr. Adrian Teo. Adrian first came to Whitworth in 1996. Right from the very beginning, Adrian brought something different, refreshing, and perhaps a bit unexpected to the life of the department and the university. Adrian was not afraid to tackle tough, messy topics: life, death, sex, marriage, parenting. He did this in an interdisciplinary way, integrating psychology, theology, philosophy, biology, and more. For years Adrian and I taught different sections of a theories of personality course in the psychology major, and although I have strived for the depth and richness that Adrian brought to this subject matter, to this day I have still not quite achieved it.
Former provost Michael Le Roy, '89, was known to lift up the psychology department as an aspirational example of colleagues from a wide variety of Christian faith perspectives working together to educate students about the connections between faith and an academic discipline. Much of whatever success we may have had in this realm was undoubtedly due to the depth of Adrian's theological knowledge and his good character. Even where there may have been disagreement, he remained devout and committed but also humble and respectful of others' deeply held convictions.
When I came to Whitworth for my job interview, the very last appointment of my campus visit was to discuss psychology and faith with Adrian. This was shortly after he had won a Templeton award for his psychology and Christian faith course, "Mind of God, Minds of Humans." Adrian was warm and welcoming, incredibly bright, and, to be honest, he asked the toughest questions of the entire interview process. I remember leaving Whitworth hoping and praying that I was smart enough to work at a place like Whitworth and would be lucky enough to have a colleague like Adrian. Ever since that time, Adrian went on to support and encourage me wholeheartedly in every personal and professional endeavor that I have ever undertaken, as he did for us all. I still remember him standing at my front door when my son was born, beaming with delight as he delivered a meal that Tessa had made (still some of the best potatoes I have ever had. Incidentally, you should know that Adrian loved to eat! If he had a weakness of any kind that I was ever able to discover, it was the chocolate-chip cookie that was his nemesis).
One of the quintessential defining features of Adrian's faith and values is that he loved every single life and rejoiced in it. I shared with him the ultrasound images of my unborn son, and he asked me if he could incorporate them into his slides for his developmental psychology lectures. In the day-to-day of our lives as coworkers, we sometimes forget the profound intimacy that develops when we work alongside someone most every day for many years. Our life together with Adrian reminds us of this gift.
And the relationships that mattered most to Adrian were those with his family, here and in Singapore. There is a lot of talk in Christian circles about the proper ordering of personal priorities: God first, family second, work and vocation after that. This is an area where it can be hard for many of us to keep our commitments, in spite of all our best efforts, but Adrian led the way for us as a fine example. Adrian taught every class from the bottom of his heart and from the heights of his mind, but he absolutely could not wait to come home to his family each day and every summer.
When Adrian was first sick with cancer, more than a decade ago, he began communicating with some of his supporters, one of whom was my mom. I want to share part of one of his email newsletters with you, as it conveys perfectly Adrian's deep sense of faith and the way in which he was able to turn even his own deep hardships into an opportunity for both teaching and ministry to others. Part of his letter reads as follows:
"As you read this, don't think of me as any sort of heroic person or any great source of inspiration. I am a person living on the grace of God through no part of mine. When you see what I have gone through so far battling through two different kinds of cancer, I want you to see the reality and constant presence of God as I have experienced it, and know that He is just as real and present in your lives. Years ago, Francis Schaeffer wrote a couple of books entitled, The God Who Is There and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. The titles are only partially correct, I think. In my experience, the truth is that God is there AND HERE, and He is there and here and He is LOUD and CLEAR."
For those of you who may never have had the wonderful gift of sitting in Adrian's psychology classroom, or in one of his many Core lectures, this message from him exemplifies his great skillfulness in integrating faith and learning. Adrian closed this letter with the words, "Join me in Praising Him!" Every day, Adrian's ardor for God and his spirit of rejoicing served as a witness to those around him.
In the summer of 2014, shortly after Adrian started showing symptoms of his cancer's recurrence, I had a dream that has come to provide me great comfort. In my dream, we were gathered as a faculty at some kind of development day or retreat. Many of my colleagues were there in the dream – Roger Mohrlang, Noel Wescombe, Jim Waller, and other colleagues past and present. In this dream, Adrian told us that he would be leaving. My dreaming mind interpreted this to mean that he would be leaving Whitworth for some other institution or job, but he didn't say where. Those of us gathered around him in the dream were feeling sad and upset at the thought of his departure, but the Adrian of the dream told us not to worry, that he was going someplace where he would be able to learn more about God and psychology and faith-learning integration than any of the rest of us could ever imagine.
And so I would suggest to you my friends that we need not worry in this regard. Adrian is now in that place where he knows the answers to all his many and deep questions about faith, life, and human nature and behavior, along with the great mystery of what it means to be together with God forever through the grace and sacrifice of his son, Jesus.
May God grant us solace, hope, and the wisdom and strength to prevent, live with, and transcend cancer. Amen.