When Trevor Purcell died, Brent Stoffel lost a father.
Stoffel, a fomer student of Purcell’s who now has his doctorate, was one of the many students the former professor embraced as a son or daughter.
Stoffel was, he said, Purcell’s “white son.”
He remembered the day he sat at Purcell’s feet and learned the professor was ill.
“He told me not to worry,” Stoffel said. “He said, ‘The day I go, I will be in peace.'”
Stoffel and more than 200 other students and faculty packed into the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom on Tuesday to remember Purcell. The former chair of the Africana studies department died Sept. 24 of an undisclosed cause.
Purcell’s memorial was filled with family, friends, students and faculty who came to offer their condolences and share memories of his life and work with prayers, tributes and poetry.
Professor Susan Greenbaum, a colleague of Purcell’s in the anthropology department, was visibly shaken as she told the crowd of the void left when Purcell died.
“My heart is breaking, and it chokes my words,” Greenbaum said. “He cheered me up when I was down and I never thought I would come to this day. I’m having a hard time letting go; he’s left a hole in our hearts.”
Speakers at the service remembered Purcell as someone whose smile would light up any room and whose voice and demeanor brought joy to those who knew him well.
“He cared deeply about students. It was evident in his conscientious teaching, his coaching, his advising,” President Judy Genshaft said. “He was a valued colleague and leader. I, personally, will truly miss his guidance and calming effect he had on people. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on forever at the University of South Florida.”
Dr. Trevor Purcell first joined USF in 1992 as an assistant professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies. He was appointed chair of the Africana Studies department in 2000. He was involved in many other committees at USF, and tried to extend the reach of Africana Studies at USF into the political, economic and health spheres. He was also involved in community service work.
Colleagues credited him with creating stronger ties between USF and the Caribbean.
Around the Africana department he was known as “chief.”
“Trevor, you didn’t have to die to know that so many
people loved you,” said Associate Provost Kofi Glover, a close friend of Purcell’s, at the closing of the ceremony. “Trevor lived a good life. So, Trevor, as you go to join the ancestors, look well over us so those of us who are alive may continue to honor you.”
Lianne Stewart was another of Purcell’s “children.”
Stewart said he called her his “adopted daughter” and filled the role of her father, who had died when she was nine.
At the service, she said she couldn’t bear to visit Purcell in the hospital, but after he died, she played out in her mind how their last conversation would have gone.
She would have hugged him, told him he was looking better. She would have laughed and explained how she had become really good friends with his office door while he was away.
Before Purcell became ill, she was always knocking on his door.
“It is so lovely to know that death is not the end, that death does not hold the spirit in bondage,” Stewart said. “He is not lost, his body is just absent. I’m not going to say goodbye; just ‘Sir, please relax, tell Daddy I say hi and I’ll bug you later.'”
Anna Peters can be reached at (813) 974-6299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.