Persons' death leaves hole in community
By MELISSA DAUGHERTY - Staff Writer
Article Launched:01/20/2007 12:03:52 AM PST
Many members of the community are in shock over the loss of a professor who was considered a fixture at Chico State University.
Paul Persons' death just days shy of the spring semester has dealt a shock and a blow to many who knew the 55-year-old political science professor, who was also well-known outside of the university.
"Everyone feels like they've lost a friend, and Paul had that effect because he was (a friend)," said Paul Zingg, Chico State president.
Zingg was one of the first people in Chico to hear of Persons' death, which was reported to him by CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. Persons died in his hotel room in Long Beach, where he'd been staying to attend meetings of the Statewide Academic Senate, of which he was a member.
According to CSU spokesman Paul Browning, Persons was found Wednesday morning by colleagues who had become concerned when he did not show up for a scheduled meeting.
On Friday, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office, which is waiting for toxicology results, had yet to report a cause of death.
Persons' long-time service as an academic senator, an elected position, was a reflection of the confidence members of the faculty had in him, Zingg said.
"He represents what's best about being a faculty at this university; his values, just the quality of the way he thought and acted," he said.
Zingg said his thoughts are with Persons' two children and wife, Marcia Briggs, who teaches at Chico State.
According to the university, Persons graduated from Chico State in 1973, and later attended the New College of Law in San Francisco. While attending classes, he conducted legal services as a Vista volunteer, and received a scholarship from Howard University to assist people with low incomes.
He returned to Chico State in 1979 to teach political science and has remained at the university since that time.
Persons served as an adviser to legal-studies students and those in the pre-law program at the Community Legal Information Center on campus. He also supervised several internship programs, including Environmental Advocates.
In 1998 he was named Outstanding Academic Adviser.
Andrew Flescher, a professor in Chico State's religious studies department, said he could not think of anyone better suited to being a professor than Persons.
"He really believed in what he did," Flescher said.
Flescher acknowledged sparring with Persons from time to time about issues, recalling a heated exchange in an Academic Senate meeting. But despite their differing opinions, they were friends who met regularly for lunch.
Persons, Flescher said, was very judicious, and had an internal sense of process that wouldn't stand for shortcuts when getting something done.
"These days, it's not the most common trait to find someone thoroughly authentic on a campus," he said. "Paul was the exception."
Persons will be remembered for that, and for walking around campus with what Flescher described as a gorgeous smile.
Someone else who mentioned his trademark grin is Barbara Vlamis, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council.
Vlamis noted his long history with the environmental community, including BEC, for which Persons served as an attorney and adviser.
She was quick to call Persons a friend, and described him as compassionate, kind, enthusiastic and deeply committed to education and the law. And she recalled flying over Butte County with Persons, who was a pilot.
His love of nature and commitment to humanity is what drove him to educate and litigate as he strove to make Butte County a better place to live, she said.
In addition to his work for the environment, Persons was considered a fervent advocate for prisoners' rights, the right to privacy, and a woman's right to an abortion.
Despite his experience and education, Vlamis said Persons never emitted a haughty attitude. He was just part of the grass roots, she said.
Like many others who knew Persons as a healthy and active person, the news of his death has been quite shocking for Vlamis.
She last saw him on Sunday when they marched in downtown Chico in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Her last memory of him is fitting, considering how he always managed to make time for the community, she said.
"All of us will sorely miss his intellect, his energy, and his absolutely wonderful smile."
Staff writer Melissa Daugherty can be reached at 896-7761 or [email protected]
You know what makes me sad about the note above? I had spoken with Paul a couple weeks before his passing talking about adding students to his online courses... I still remember reading the initial email on the 18th about his passing and how much everyone seemed to be shocked.
I didn't know Paul very well but every time I met him on campus he had this infectious smile and was always polite and respectful. I couldn't believe when Buzz told me Paul was only 55. As I've posted before, all of a sudden 55 doesn't look that old or that far away anymore, does it?