Today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 83 today. When I think of him, I think of the way his eyes would light up when he looked at me. He saw me fully, believed in me, admired me (and taught me to admire myself), and loved me so deeply that his love sustains me still. Like all of us he had his flaws, but he had a beauty that ran so deep it rendered his every flaw null. He walked the extra mile, for me and for our relationship and, in so doing, bequeathed me with the greatest of gifts: the gift of knowing that I was truly and deeply and irrevocably loved. When he parted this life on April 22, 2010, a candle went out, but it left behind its beautiful scent. Today, the day he would have been 83, I remember him with a reprint of his obituary, here:
PAUL LIONEL PURYEAR, SR.
March 15, 1930 – April 22, 2010
The Right Reverend Dr. Paul Lionel Puryear, Sr., Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia, passed away on Thursday, April 22, 2010 in Charlottesville, Virginia at the age of 80. Born in Belleville, New Jersey as the second son of the Reverend Thomas Langston Puryear, Sr. and the Reverend Pauline Sims Puryear, he attended public schools in Newark, New Jersey. He transferred as a high school freshman to the renowned Palmer Memorial Residential School in Sedalia, North Carolina. He became an ordained A.M.E. minister at the age of 18.
Paul graduated first in his class with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Political Science from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. While at Talladega, he served as Student Body President, served in the concert choir, and served as Chapter President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. In 1953, he entered the University of Chicago as a Danforth Foundation Fellow, where he earned a Masters of Arts in Political Science in 1956, and a PhD in Political Science, and a Doctorate of Divinity, in 1960.
Paul began his career as an assistant professor of Political Science at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he received tenure. In 1961, he became chairman of the Political Science Department at Tuskeegee University in Tuskeegee, Alabama. He continued his career at Fisk University, where he served as Chairman of the Social Services Division beginning in 1966. In 1970, he became the first African-American Administrator at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, where he served as Provost of the Social Sciences and Law School. During his tenure at Florida State, he did a one-year sabbatical at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York, NY. In 1976, he became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he later served as Professor of African-American Studies. In 1982, he came to the University of Virginia as the Dean of African-American Affairs, later serving as Professor of Political Science and Government, before retiring in December 2003 from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
Throughout his career, Paul was a tireless fighter for civil and human rights, helping lead the integration of the beaches in Virginia Beach, VA, and serving as a leader in the voting rights movement in Tuskeegee, AL. In 1970, he and his family single-handedly integrated the Killearn Estates neighborhood of Tallahassee, FL. Paul was a long-term member of the American Political Science Association (APSA), published widely in the areas of political science, civil rights, and minority health, and he was a passionate and dynamic presence in the classroom, where he taught African-American studies, political science and government.
He is survived by his wife, Leah Wilson Puryear of Charlottesville, VA, two sons, Paul Lionel (and Brenda) Puryear, Jr. of Fairfield, CT and Eugene Wilson Puryear of Charlottesville, VA, one daughter, Paula Puryear (and Eric) Martin of Los Angeles, CA, one step-daughter, Alysha Corbin of Lorton, VA, two nephews, Thomas Puryear and David Puryear, and three grandchildren. He leaves behind a host of other family members and friends.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KAREN STEYR