The SMU community first had a chance to meet Mike Pueppke when he visited SMU as a prospective PhD student in the spring of 2008. This polite, somewhat reserved, and extremely witty young man made a strong impression upon the faculty; admitting him was an easy decision. Mike predictably went on to become one of the best students in our then fledgling program. Mike was seldom the most outspoken student in a class, but when he spoke, he always offered a different reading of the texts that invariably challenged the general direction of discussions, always with careful thought, evidence, and his characteristic wit.
His written work was both complex and elegant. When he saw problems in his own work, he labored incessantly until those problems disappeared. He was his most difficult taskmaster. As an alumnus of Dallas Baptist University and former technical writer, Mike brought an unusual and rich background to SMU. He possessed an impressive understanding of philosophy. We were proud to have attracted a young man who fulfilled SMU’s basic ethos of open intellectual discussion. Mike believed as strongly as anyone that people from different backgrounds and intellectual positions could discuss them openly, without rancor, without quick judgment. He embodied that ethos, which is easy to profess, but difficult to deliver.
Mike fell ill in the spring of 2009. It was clear that his treatment would make it impossible to continue his coursework. He asked for grades of Incomplete in all four of the intensive graduate seminars and proseminars in which he was enrolled. This allowed him to take a year off to continue treatment and work to pay his medical bills. We didn’t know how he was going to return; many of us thought that no one would be able to make up four Incompletes while working on other studies. When Mike returned to the program in 2010, though, that’s exactly what he did. Despite being away a year, despite often low energy levels due to his medication and treatment, Mike hammered out four excellent research papers for his former professors.
What stood out in all this time was Mike’s ethics: He knew it would be unethical to remain in the program and work other jobs, so he took a leave of absence to see to his obligations, including the son that he and his wife Brittni were expecting. When Mike returned, he didn’t want any unnecessary allowances to make up for lost time; he sat down for countless long hours and made up the work, all while dealing with being a new parent. Mike had an opportunity to take a full-time university teaching position, but refused to pursue it if it meant sacrificing his goal of obtaining the PhD.
Mike had many dreams. He hoped to finish his degree, then perhaps seek an appointment at his alma mater Dallas Baptist so he could help make it into an even better university, first as a department chair and eventually the president. As ambitious as these plans sound, Mike believed he could do it, and so did his friends and family. He had the vision. He had the will. He had the love of the institution, his friends, and education itself.
Mike was a born teacher whose students loved him. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word: gentle, humane, forgiving. His fellow students loved him. He was a consummate professional and dedicated student whose teachers admired him. Best of all, he was a loving father and husband who promoted and inspired love in all he encountered. When Mike gave two brilliant addresses to the students of Dallas Baptist in early 2011 and 2012, his remarks echoed that message. Mike was a man of deep faith, and told the students never to give up on God’s love, their love for each other, and for all humanity. He meant every word, despite all he endured, and inspired everyone who heard his heartfelt message.
To Mike we say “Goodbye,” in the sense of that word’s etymology: God be with you. We love you. We will miss you. You were a gift and blessing to all who knew and remember you. Goodbye.
-Darryl Dickson-Carr, Director of Graduate Studies