As anyone who has ever taken any of her classes knows, Pamela Macfie is the Queen of Rhetoric. Her ability to spin even the most mundane words into carefully crafted sentences is a quality that so many of her students admire.
Macfie’s Sewanee journey started in grad school at Duke, when the Director of Graduate Studies received a letter from Sewanee’s English Department. At once, she was enthusiastic, exclaiming, “That’s the job I want!” The Director, on the other hand, quickly responded, “you probably won’t get it.” After interviews in Atlanta and New York City with “the Sewanee legends of the English Department,” Macfie said that she decided Sewanee was “the best possible place for me.”
Her journey at Sewanee has been defined by quirky and unexpected moments. On her first visit to the mountain, her tour guide/one of the aforementioned “Sewanee legends,” Tam Carlson, wished her goodbye, to which she replied, “Well, I’ve just had the best time with you…I’ve got to give you a kiss goodbye!” In another case, she was walking down University Avenue when her shoe “jumped” off her foot and landed under a car. “Ted Stirling had to get it!” she laughs.
The first woman to hold the tenure-track position in the English Department, Macfie remembers sharing a phone line with Doug Paschall, another professor: “We had to share a phone line, and people would call him, because he was a respected scholar, but when I picked up, people thought I was his secretary! They thought I scheduled his appointments!”
Professor Macfie met Rev. Tom Macfie at the first official social occasion of the year, a tea held in Guerry Garth for the returning faculty to meet new faculty. A politics professor, Bob Keele, introduced her to Macfie, who, at the time, worked in the Admission office. “I didn’t want to date him, because he was going to be a priest!” They got married in her third year here and in his first year in the School of Theology.
In addition to being the first woman to hold tenure in the English department, Pamela Macfie’s trailblazing ways and innovative nature were shown once again, when Sewanee did not offer maternity leave. Pregnant with her son, Macfie decided to create her own schedule for her students. “Instead of 50 minute classes, we had 75 minute classes, so that I could take two weeks off for maternity leave.” Her dedication to her students was further shown as her due date arrived, “I taught the day he was born.” Her son arrived on the due date, and “I graded papers in the waiting room!”
Her love of Sewanee and Sewanee traditions is contagious. She notes that All Saints’ is the true heart of campus, and her favorite tradition is the signing of the honor code, but she is quick to add, “it’s interesting…graduation is also held there.” She continues, “it invites us to reflect on our past.”
Of all places on campus, her favorite place is the cross. Close to her home, she reveals that there’s a “daily intimacy” between her and the sacred space. When she’s talking about the “pattern of the Earth below,” it’s clear that she values this domain and her experiences here. This stone structure, sitting on a mountain, provides a “mini history of the University….it shakes off certain aspects of isolation.”
To me, and to many other students, Pamela Macfie is one of those rare professors who embodies the spirit and love of learning that is quintessential to Sewanee. So many Sewanee students are inspired to take her classes because of her incredible enthusiasm and intellect, and, for that reason, she has become one of Sewanee’s most popular professors.