It was a typical wintery night in Rochester—bone-chillingly cold, and I was wishing that there were tunnels that extended further than just the academic quad. I was finishing up a game of squash when I remembered one of my relatives telling me about a plaque with their name on it somewhere in the Goergen Center. Curious, I aimlessly sauntered around, trying to find this plaque, but to no avail. After pondering the possibility of giving up and attempting again the next day, I forgot that I had left my Nalgene back at the squash courts. After grabbing it, I began to head out, before something intriguing had caught my eye. There was a small, unassuming plaque hanging on a wall, tucked away in the back corner of the squash courts. It was the plaque I had been looking for.

I had been a UR student and member of the UR Club Squash Team for nearly three years and had never noticed my relative’s plaque. This was no ordinary relative, either—it was my step-grandfather, Thomas Pryor. Unfortunately, it would be the first and last time I would be able to see his plaque before his passing. His passing is what has inspired me to write about his contributions as an alumnus and as a step-grandparent who has served and will continue to serve as one of my main role models.

Tom was born and raised in Rochester, and graduated from this university in 1940 before earning his M.B.A from Harvard. He always told me that he credits the University of Rochester for not only offering him an exceptional education, but also building him up to be the man he would subsequently become in his professional career and personal life. UR would remain his true and most cherished alma mater. As an alumnus, he felt obligated to give back to the school for the education that he had received. He served on the Board of Trustees and donated toward the development of the Goergen Athletic Center. He was not only devoted as an alumnus—he was also a lovable, kind-hearted step-grandfather—a side that many of the alumni haven’t seen.

As a kid, my family and I would travel down to Florida at least once a year to visit him and my biological grandmother. Making our way from the airport to their apartment in Key Biscayne, I would sit quietly with an anxious smile, barely able to contain my excitement. As soon as we arrived, I would gleefully rush into my grandparent’s room, where I would be met with open arms and hearts. For hours, I would sit down and listen to his stories, both in and out of college. Despite his age, his ability to recall his life was something to be admired and respected. Even as a hyperactive kid, I would never have trouble sitting down with Tom to listen to his life’s experiences. Tom had many words of wisdom that he would always share with me whenever I visited. Of the values and lessons, there was always one that stuck with me the most: “Do the right thing if it fulfills yourself and feels like the right thing to do, not because you want to be acknowledged for it, or to impress others.”

It wasn’t until years down the road and after constant refection that I truly had understood his life and his reasons for sharing his words of wisdom. I realized that Tom embodied the piece of advice that had stuck with me the most—he symbolized what it meant to be “Ever Better”—Meliora, in the sense that he wanted to help fulfill himself and fulfill others without receiving the acknowledgement for doing so. He did what he did because it was the best he could do, what he thought was the right thing to do. He was the type of man who didn’t care whether or not he was acknowledged for his contributions to the University, although he was very appreciative of it. He gave back because he felt like it was the right thing to do and not because he expected to be acknowledged for it. The same went for me, too. As a step-grandfather, you might not have the same level of obligation to your step-grandchildren as you would if they were your biological grandchildren. However, loving us as he would his biological grandchildren was what he felt was the right choice. He would have made the same choice even if he hadn’t received any recognition for it at all.

Tom was an honorable man with strong virtues that he stuck by unwaveringly until his passing. For this, Tom is my role model and the man I hope to be every day. Every time I pass your plaque on the squash courts, I’ll think about your words of wisdom, the lives that you touched, and the legacy you’ve left behind for me to continue. I’ll love you always—­Erik.

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