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Tim Edgar Remembered As Caring Teacher, Trailblazing Scholar

Former Associate Professor Timothy Edgar was known as a huge baseball fan—especially of the Red Sox—who tried to watch a game in every MLB stadium. Emerson faculty member Nancy Allen was a student of Edgar’s in 2004, and recalls that Game 4 of that year’s World Series—the game that saw the Sox sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to win its first Fall Classic in 86 years—fell on a class night.

She also remembers that Edgar held class that night until 9:45 pm, as scheduled.

“I was stunned,” Allen, executive-in-residence in the Communication Studies Department, wrote in an email. “It was a moment when his desire for academic excellence won out over his love for the Red Sox.”

Edgar, who taught Health Communication at Emerson for 14 years and who led the graduate program before leaving for Tufts University School of Medicine last summer, died Monday, January 2, from injuries sustained in a car accident in India. He is remembered by former students and colleagues as a man of authenticity, a pioneering scholar, and a teacher with very high standards.

A national expert and leader in health communication, Edgar had identified core professional standards of excellence within the field—standards he held his students to, Allen said.

Over the years, Edgar evolved from Allen’s professor, to her mentor, to her colleague, and is the reason she began teaching, she said.

“[T]o have his seal of approval and to work side by side with him at Emerson College is a professional highlight. To have Tim’s earnest recommendation of you has always meant something and always will mean something,” Allen wrote.

Communication Studies Professor Richard West said Edgar was one of the reasons he came to Emerson. His name was well known in academic circles, and for years, West had been teaching his own classes with a 1992 volume of essays on the various implications of the AIDS epidemic that Edgar had edited.

Edgar was talking and writing about the impact of HIV/AIDS, not just medically and biologically, but socially and psychologically, long before most other academics, West said. He also was a pioneer in the field of health communication in general, “and I would argue he was one of the first to put those two words together,” he said.

West described Edgar as someone who was “very impatient with mediocrity.” He expected everyone he encountered—colleagues, students, even friends—to commit maximum effort to their work and their relationship, he said.

But Edgar’s demeanor could sometimes also be misinterpreted, particularly at a school such as Emerson, which places such a premium on effusive expression, West said.

“A lot of people perceived Tim as being gruff and uninvolved, but what he was really doing was listening,” West said.

As a colleague and a friend, Edgar was always willing to listen, something West said he learned early on in his Emerson tenure, when he went to Edgar’s office to introduce himself.

“He said, ‘If you ever need someone to talk to, my door is open—and can always be closed,’” West recalled. “I thought, what a wonderful image that is. And there were a lot of opened and closed doors over the years at Emerson.”

Cassandra Cote Grantham, MA ’06, remembered Edgar as a tough professor who gave her and her classmates a strong theoretical base to undergird their health communication practice. He was also a supportive mentor who helped his students long after they left his classroom, she said.

Edgar was exacting and demanding, she said, but he kept a photo of Grantham and her graduate program classmates on his desk for years, and would email them almost weekly with job opportunities, interesting fellowships, and professional resources. When Grantham guest lectured at a university, Edgar helped her with her presentation. 

“He cared about every single student [who] went through that program,” said Grantham, now director of child health at MaineHealth in Portland, Maine.

Grantham said she last saw Edgar in early November, when they were in Denver for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). Edgar was getting an award and invited Grantham to the ceremony. He dedicated his award to the women in his life who hadn’t gotten the recognition they deserved.

“It was beautiful, it was so lovely, and that’s at the heart of who Tim was,” she said. “He cared so much about people and social justice and equal access. It’s just so interesting to win an award and not make it about yourself, to make it about the people who lifted you up.”

Edgar was one of the most influential mentors in her life, Grantham said, along with a fifth-grade teacher who passed away shortly before the APHA meeting this fall. She said she never got a chance to tell her elementary school teacher what he meant to her, and had that in mind in Denver, particularly after hearing Edgar talk about his good friend and Emerson colleague Cynthia Bartlett, who died last summer.

Grantham said she took that opportunity to tell Edgar how defining he was to her life and career.

“In addition to losing a wonderful professor, we lost a scholar; and I think we lost a real humane, caring person,” Grantham said. “And I think that’s probably the biggest loss.”

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