By Alejandro Alvarez
The following was published by the The Eagle on 19 Feb. 2014.
In his office on a Wednesday afternoon, Thomas Long, lecturer at the School of International Service, picks a book out of his shelf. He thumbs through its thick pages, and stops somewhere near the middle.
“Make no little plans,” he begins to read, “they have no magic to stir man’s blood…” The book is titled “The North American Idea” and the passage is a description of the book’s author, his former colleague and close friend Dr. Robert Pastor.
Pastor, 66, a renowned specialist in Latin American studies and SIS professor, passed away Jan. 8 after a four-year battle with cancer. Faculty and students gathered at a memorial service Jan. 25 to honor Pastor’s life and his far-reaching influence at AU.
During his tenure at AU, Pastor established the AU Study Abroad program, the Center for North American Studies and the Center for Democracy and Election Management. He also served as AU’s vice president of international affairs from 2002-2007, in which he helped strengthen AU’s ties with foreign institutions.
“As a vice president, he did a lot to internationalize AU,” Long said. “He built a lot of connections between AU and other universities around the world that continue to be an important part of where the university is going.”
Long spoke of a man who found time to make personal connections in his workplace and never sacrificed modesty for stardom.
“Here at SIS, it was really a more personal connection that he had to people,” Long said. “He was sort of a star. He was very well known but never treated anyone as if he were the star or in a different class. He really built meaningful connections with the professors around him.”
After receiving a diagnosis of advanced stage colon cancer in 2010, Pastor made a commitment to spend most of his time with his family. However, Pastor’s sense of family was considerably bigger than that of the traditional sense.
“He had this incredible community that was very deep here at American University,” Long said. “He really considered this to be a second home.”
Among those at AU that Pastor considered his closest family was University Chaplain Reverend Joseph Eldridge. Pastor and Eldridge met during Pastor’s work with the Carter administration, and the two formed a rapport which they shared for the rest of Pastor’s life.
On a trip to Oxford a few years ago, Pastor went to great lengths to visit a famous stained glass window of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, Eldridge said.
“It was very meaningful to me,” he said. “John Wesley meant nothing to Bob Pastor, but I meant something to Bob Pastor.”
Pastor continued to teach classes until the fall semester of 2013 and spent his final days walking AU’s campus and mentoring students until the last possible moment. Pastor’s dedication to his work and friends at AU never relented, despite his worsening illness, Long said.
“He saw his relationships with students as being that important,” Long said, “and it was something that kept him mentally engaged. And this is a man for whom being intellectually engaged with the world was life.”