Bates remembers Troy Pappas ’16

John Pappas, father of Troy ’16, leaves the College Chapel at the end of the Oct. 11 memorial service, followed by head football coach Mark Harriman. Pappas holds Troy’s jersey, signed by his teammates, and a floral arrangement from the service. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

Last week, as Troy Pappas ’16 lay hospitalized in critical condition following a fall in a Bates residence hall, multifaith chaplains Bill Blaine-Wallace and Emily Wright-Magoon responded to a call for a moment of silence for the injured student.

It was lunchtime in Commons and the big dining hall was packed. The chaplains went partway up a stairway and started speaking, softly, about him.

“It was like waves of silence going out across the entire Commons,” Holly Gurney, associate dean of students, told a campus community gathered in the Bates College Chapel on Oct. 11 to commemorate Pappas, who died Oct. 5. “I’ve never heard Commons silent, ever. I wasn’t really sure it was possible. But the sense of caring for the family and for Troy, and the sense of loss and hope, stopped everything.”

Troy Pappas ’16 wore this jersey, hanging from the pulpit during the memorial gathering, as a wide receiver for the football team. His teammates signed it during his stay in the hospital before he died. A thousand origami doves adorning the Chapel were folded by members of the Bates community in honor of Troy and in support of the Pappas family. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

“It’s an amazing tribute to him in a very, very Bates way.”

The 18-year-old Pappas, a football player and student of math and science, was injured Sept. 29. The chapel was filled for the gathering that honored Pappas’ life and shared the sorrow of his loss through music, prayer and reflections.

Troy’s family sat in front. Also in the front rows were his football teammates, dozens of big guys bent over in grief, temporarily not so tough.

A few candles in tall stands flickered and smoked along the center aisle. One thousand multicolored paper doves, folded by members of the Bates community over the last few days and hung on string, made a ragged curtain across the chancel.

Music by Bach and Mozart, played by organist John Corrie and sung by the Bates College Choir and members of the a cappella groups, bookended the service. Blaine-Wallace’s invocation offered thoughts by Marcel Proust about the inadequacy of formal condolences; while Wright-Magoon, in her benediction, quoted May Sarton’s poem “All Souls”:

What has been plaited cannot be unplaited —
only the strands grow richer with each loss.
And memory makes kings and queens
of us.

Pappas’ teammate Ryan Weston ’13 prayed for bravery and vision, and head football coach Mark Harriman led the gathering in “A Litany of Remembrance,” a tradition at Bates memorial services. The Deansmen sang, pianist Brendan Davidson ’14 followed his creative imagination through an extended improvisation and Brett Emmons ’15 shared some consoling thoughts from the Bahá’i faith.

But it was Gurney who left the listeners with an enduring picture of Pappas. While she had not known him personally, she allowed, she had spent the days since Sept. 29 learning about him in countless conversations with those who had.

“There are a few things that I’ve heard again and again,” she said: what a great sense of humor he had, and how much fun he was to be with. How charming he could be, and how helpful.

The Deansmen offer “I Shall Not Walk Alone” by Ben Harper. Photograph by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College.

“I discovered that he was very bright, very bright,” she said. “He used that intelligence to reach out to those around him, tutoring friends in different subjects where he had a strength.”

Gurney said, “He didn’t bother so much with the superficial stuff. I heard from people that what he wanted to know from them was the big questions — what do you want to do in life, what do you want out of life, what are we doing here?”

“That is an exceptional thing in a first-year student in his first semester.”