For 1970s graduate, English professor's legacy lasts a lifetime
Main Page Content
Even in death, the late University of Iowa professor Richard Braddock imparted a valuable lesson to 1974 alumna Diana Burke Cain.
“Make every day, every school year, every student count,” recalls Cain, who was student teaching when she learned that her revered English instructor was killed in a traffic accident while in Australia on a Fulbright Teacher Exchange in 1974. Recently retired from a 40-year career as a high school English teacher, Cain has been reflecting on the mentor who inspired her to pursue a career in education.
In the late 1960s, Cain had dreams of getting a job at Rolling Stone and marrying one of the Beatles. The Davenport native felt she was well on her way by studying in Iowa’s esteemed English program. The turbulence of the times interfered, however. The Vietnam War, the pervasive anti-establishmentarianism, a rebellious flower child mentality, boyfriends—all, she says, contributed to her decision to abandon academics. Twice.
• Joined English faculty in 1955
• Coordinated rhetoric program, 1962–72; directed advanced composition program, 1972–74
• Died in 1974 at age 54
A string of unsatisfying menial jobs forced her to reconsider, and she enrolled at UI once again. It was the fall of 1973, just a year before Braddock’s death. Cain had signed up for his course on expository writing, but wasn’t particularly comfortable with the younger coeds seated around her in the English-Philosophy Building classroom. She felt out of place. She doubted herself. That changed when Braddock called her to his office after class one day. She had recently turned in a five-page paper full of “hippie angst” and was sure she was about to be admonished. Expelled, maybe.
Instead, the professor sat in his chair, relaxed, his Buddy Holly–style glasses revealing a twinkle in his eyes, and he slid an application across his desk toward her: “I want you to submit your paper to Mademoiselle magazine’s writing contest,” he explained. “You have the voice, and you’re honest and courageous and observant—everything a real writer needs to be.”
Those words shattered her doubts and gave Cain the confidence and focus she was lacking. She mailed in the application and within a month had a job with the magazine as a campus correspondent. Although she ultimately published more than 100 articles as a freelance writer, she felt compelled to teach, and the following year she completed a certificate in secondary education along with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She says she thought of Braddock often over the years as she worked with teenagers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, Hawaii, and Texas.
“Not only did professor Braddock teach me how important it is to write from the heart and be true to one’s voice, he also taught me the importance of reaching out to students, getting to know them as people and not just as students,” says Cain, who now lives in Murphy, Texas. “He was such a beacon of hope in my life during a very difficult and tumultuous time. He set me on the road to success, and I have tried to pay that forward to my students.”