Never too busy

Coach Bruce was always there for me
By Joyce Plaugher Fairbanks ('69)

Originally published in Winter 2007, this is just one of many stories from Madison magazine's award-winning Professors You Love series, written by JMU students and alumni, about the professors that have made the most impact on their lives — then, and now.

JMU's Morrison-Bruce Center is named for two pioneering physical educators, including Pat Bruce.

JMU's Morrison-Bruce Center is named for two pioneering physical educators, including Pat Bruce.

Although it's been quite sometime since I graduated from JMU (then Madison College) in 1969, I still hold memories that haven't faded. After graduating as a physical education major, I felt fully capable of teaching and coaching. I was fortunate to have had excellent professors, all of whom taught me well. One professor, Dr. Patricia Bruce, was always my favorite. She taught many of my classes, but I remember her best as my adviser.

I was fresh out of high school and facing the real world as I began my college journey. I had so many questions: "Which classes do I sign up for? How many hours are required the first semester? How can I avoid 8 a.m. classes? Will I be able to join the swim team?" Just as I reached panic stage, it seemed as if a little bird landed on my shoulder and whispered a message that sounded like music to my ears, "You have an adviser. Her name is Dr. Bruce. Go find her."

As I approached her office apprehensively, I could see Dr. Bruce working at a desk that was piled high with books, papers and other things. I thought to myself, "Wow, she's way too busy to help me right now." I turned to leave but then changed my mind and knocked gently on her half-open door.

A friendly, perky voice said, "Come in." I did so and stammered, "Hi, my name is Joyce and I understand that you are to be my adviser. I can see you're busy. May I come back at another time?" To my total amazement, she told me to come in, sit down and please excuse the mess. My first impression was a good one; here was an obviously busy lady who was stopping her work to talk to me. She was very helpful, and we talked for quite some time.

During my college years, I went to her office numerous times for advice, instruction or just a shoulder to cry on. Each time I went in, she stopped what she was doing and gave me her full attention. This was so much different than the guidance counselors I had dealt with in high school.

I often reminisce about my four years at JMU, and I find myself sharing with others about this lady who was always there for me. There was no wrong time to go see her. She was readily available when needed. Through her example, she taught me how important it is to stop what I'm doing and listen with my ears and eyes to what people have to say, especially children.

Now age 57, I am working on a master's degree in school counseling. I'm also trying to start a program in the Fredericksburg area for children who are grieving a loss. Dr. Bruce taught me the most important thing I can do for any child is just be there when they need you, be attentive to what they are saying and do it all with a sincere, encouraging smile.

Many of my friends cannot even remember their college advisers. Thankfully, I can. Dr. Bruce was the best! I will never forget her.

About the professor
Physical education professor Pat Bruce taught undergraduate and graduate classes on subjects including sport psychology and motor learning. She coached high school and college team sports as well as Madison swim teams. She was part of the development of the Morrison-Bruce Center for the Promotion of Physical Activity in Girls and Women. Bruce retired in 1989.

About the author
Joyce Plaugher Fairbanks ('69) taught high school and elementary physical education, and coached for many years. She lives in Fredericksburg, Va., with her husband, Doug, and her son, Brad, who is 26. Her youngest son, Brian, died of leukemia at age 13.