Although I never had the chance to experience what it was like to sit through a lecture orchestrated by Dr. Robert Cord, I had the honor of being Bob’s closest friend for the last 17 years of his life. Over these years of friendship, we spent countless hours together, many of which involved political and historical discussions. During many of these conversations, I could see an energy take over Bob’s body. I could see how badly he yearned to be back in front of a class full of energetic students. It was all he ever wanted since the day an illness forced him into early retirement in 1996. It was through these frequent interactions that I started to paint a picture in my mind of what one of his lectures would have been like and started to realize how impactful of a tenure he had over the course of his 35-year teaching career.
When I first met Bob in the winter of 2005, nine years after he had retired, I was a sophomore at Northeastern studying Criminal Justice, earning mediocre grades at best. Bob immediately took a keen interest in my academics, becoming the mentor that I didn’t fully realize I needed. I started relying on Bob more and more for academic and career guidance.
As our relationship grew, Bob became aware that I was paying my own way through the five years at Northeastern, primarily via student loans. He could relate, as he too didn’t have the financial means to pay for his own college. His alma matter at the time, City College in NYC, was tuition free if you could get in. However, he still needed a way to pay for his textbooks, and if it were not for the scholarship money he received to pay for them, he would not have been able to attend college. To try and help ease my financial burden a bit, Bob incentivized me to keep my academic grades high by proposing to pay for my textbooks for any class in which I earned an “A”. It worked, and I was so grateful it had.
It wasn’t until later that I found out about the Robert L. Cord Endowed Book Fund, established by former students, which provides scholarship money to qualified students to help pay for their textbooks. Based on my direct experiences with the man himself, the facts that former students found it appropriate to establish a fund in his name specifically for textbooks, and that former students regularly donate to the fund, Dr. Cord’s legacy will continue giving back for many years to come.
Over the years, Bob shared with me a handful of the hundreds of letters and cards he received from former students thanking him for all that he had done for them. For some, it was Bob’s powerful and thought-provoking lectures. For others, it was his extended office hours in which he would stay on campus until every last student who wanted to see him was seen. And for others, like me, it was the long-lasting mentorship and friendship that flourished during the many years following graduation.
Dr. Robert Lewis Cord touched countless lives in many different ways. I can unequivocally say that I would not be where I am today without him. He dedicated his life to helping others, inside and outside of the classroom. He was a man who gave everything he had but took little in return, and for that, I will be forever grateful.