In Memoriam: Paul Milan, PhD

Written by Seattle University Community
June 8, 2020

Photo of Paul Milan with flowered tree in backgroundSeattle University mourns the passing of our colleague and friend, Paul B. Milan, PhD.

His loss is felt deeply and the announcement of his passing by Victor Reinking, Chair, Modern Languages & Cultures, demonstrated his impact on his students and colleagues in his email to the faculty and staff of the College of Arts and Sciences, included below.

Dear Arts and Sciences colleagues,

It is with deep sadness that I write to share the news that our beloved friend and colleague Paul Milan died yesterday, after a long struggle with brain cancer. He died at home, in the loving presence of his wife Nancy and his daughters.

Over the course of his 50-year career at SU, Paul’s legacy is one of profound empathy, innovation, creativity and dedication to the educational ideals and mission of our university. He served in many capacities during his time with us – as professor of French language and literatures; Chair of the Modern Languages Department; co-founder, with his dear friend Professor Max Marinoni, of the French in France program in 1972 (which has become, with Paul’s help and influence, the French in France and Africa program); founder of the Mexico Trek program in Tijuana, Mexico, in collaboration with Esperanza International; member and chair of many college and university committees; advisor and friend to faculty and deans and presidents. His most vital and enduring role was that of teacher, and he deeply touched the lives of hundreds of students, scores of whom have been in touch with him over the past months.

Paul made of his life a light, and he shared that light with everyone he encountered along his path.

Nancy Milan hopes to plan a gathering to remember and celebrate Paul’s life sometime in the late summer or fall. In the meantime, she asks that in lieu of flowers, friends of Paul might consider making a contribution to either the Milan Family Scholarship at SU (which Paul created to provide financial aid for students to study abroad) or to Esperanza International. Dean Powers has also let me know that there will soon be an opportunity for colleagues and friends and students to share memories of Paul on a memorial site.

On a personal note, I would simply like to say that Paul was an extraordinary friend and mentor to me, and someone who changed my life. I had a wonderful visit with him last week, in his home, and we had one of our long, meandering, splendid conversations. Towards the end of that meeting, Paul reminded me of a poem we had shared with each other during one of the trips we made together with students to Morocco (we had been walking along a beach near the city of Essaouira, at the end of an extraordinary day, and we were talking about poetry). He knew many poems by heart – in French and Spanish and English – and this was one he felt close to at this moment in his life. It is by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, and the English translation is by Jane Kenyon:

A land not mine, still

forever memorable,

the waters of its ocean

chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,

and the air drunk, like wine,

late sun lays bare

the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:

I cannot tell if the day

is ending, or the world, or if

the secret of secrets is inside me again.

Victor Reinking, Modern Languages and Cultures

President Stephen Sundborg, SJ, shared his thoughts with the community and you can read his message here.

Paul was a professor that not everyone has had, but once you meet him, you never forget him. I had the privilege of being in 2 of Paul’s French classes my first year at SU. I had a passion for the French language but his passion was on another level that inspired me to continue with French into my graduate studies. I couldn’t help but laugh when, in every class, he said “French isn’t a language but a music”. As I went on to be a tutor in the French department and even when I went to France to teach English, I found my myself emphasizing that language is a music, just like he always taught me. One of the best times of my life was participating in the French in France program which he helped create, and my trip was the last he got to participate in. He came with my class to Morocco and had the best time having fun conversations and making lovely memories traveling around the beautiful country (and was always prepared for every situation there- including having toilet paper when bathrooms had none!) I was also Paul’s TA my last year at SU and I always looked forward to helping him in his class, speaking French with students, and putting on fun parties for them. I will miss going into his office and chatting with him over a cup of coffee, or going out to lunch with him. My time at SU would not be the same if he was not there. I keep all the memories I have with him close to my heart. He gifted me one of his first French dictionaries, which is one of my most prized possessions. Paul was so much more than a professor for me, he was also a friend, mentor, and someone I immensely looked up to. 

Paul encompassed what SU was and every day I saw live out its Jesuit values. Tu vas me manquer Paul, merci pour tout ce que tu m'as appris.

Claudia Siegenthaler, Class of 2019

Dear Paul, friend, mentor, professor, colleague, we all had the fortune to be touched by your incredible kindnesses and unwavering faith in humanity. We will miss you but your teachings will always be with us. Thank you! Modern Languages and Cultures Department

I am deeply saddened to know that dear Paul will no longer be among us but, as I think of him and wish him peace, I am profoundly grateful that he left with us the kind spirit of his teachings, his wisdom, and great curiosity, empathy and genuine caring for his fellow human beings. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Sonia Barrios Tinoco, PhD, Modern Languages and Cultures Department

Two photos of Paul Milan with groups of friends

I have known Paul since 1981 when I first took French at SU.  This, in turn, led to me go on the French-in-France program and adding French as one of my majors.  I loved France and am so grateful to Paul for teaching me my first second language.  Reading Gide, Camus, and other authors in French contributed to my desire to read more authors in their original languages. From the moment I returned to SU in 2010 to teach, Paul was a mentor, colleague, and friend.  He was consistently kind; he was a fierce advocate.  I'm heartbroken at his passing and will endeavor to be the type of professor he was to his students and the type of colleague he was to us faculty. Serena Cosgrove, PhD, International Studies

I'd like to add my condolences to our colleagues in Modern Languages and everyone who knew Paul. I will miss him too. He was an open-hearted and open-minded colleague who made you felt seen. His intellectual and personal interests ranged widely. Like Dave, I was invited several times to his History of French class, in my case in order to talk about the Norman invasion of England and the effect of French on the English language. it was always a joy to do so. I also had the fortune to audit one of his classes many years ago. I was going to a conference in Paris and thought I should brush up on my (basic) French. Paul let me come to his class, even though I was not able to attend regularly. I would sit in the back and feel lucky because not only did I get to learn French, but I also learned from him how to be a better teacher. The many testimonials that have been written about him speak to Paul's ability to connect with everyone. He always smiled and had kind words when you ran into him. He helped us see ourselves as members of a community. Rest in peace, Paul. María Bullón-Fernández, PhD, English

When I think about Paul, I always remember how impressed a Sophia University student was by what he did in South America when she participated in volunteer work there during spring break. He was there with a group of students to build houses for those who were in poverty. One of the students, who was from Sophia University, told me that he worked very hard together with the students. Despite Paul's age, she was impressed that he worked as hard as the young students. She really admired and respected Paul. She also said that the experience she had there was a life changing one. I have to wonder how many of us can give our students that kind of experience. Paul was always dependable as a colleague, and will be missed greatly. Shizuko Suenaga, PhD, Modern Languages and Cultures

I have many memories of Dr. Paul Milan during my 35 years teaching here at Seattle U.  All of them are quite positive and supportive of the SU mission and community.   I can still recall his participation in A&S College Meetings and activities with great enthusiasm and respect for the Jesuit and Liberal Arts tradition of the college and university.  He spoke up clearly at many meetings over these thirty-five years, all in support of the mission and liberal arts values of SU and the College.  He was always positive about the Mission Statement of the College and University and greatly in favor of the liberal arts requirements and standards.  HE was also quite positive about the requirement of a foreign language as well as all the philosophy and theology requirements, along with the other liberal education standards.  From what I can recall, he always spoke and favored keeping these requirements strong and consistent.  Fr. David Leigh, SJ, Professor Emeritus, English

Several years ago, Paul kindly let me sit in on one of his courses as I tried to brush up my rusty French.  It was an unexpected delight!  I felt like I rediscovered the pleasure of being a student -- and learned a few things about being a better teacher.  I really appreciated his warmth, his good nature, and his genuine and infectious enthusiasm for the French language, culture, and history. Justine Barda, PhD, Film Studies

I was so sad to hear about Paul.  Paul had a tremendous smile, a distinctive voice, an inquisitive and open demeanor.  That is how I remember him… asking questions with genuine curiosity and care.  I often remember Paul when he was with Victor.. both of them joking and laughing.  Paul was a light on our campus.  My condolences to his colleagues, friends and family. Carol Wolfe Clay, Professor Emeritus, MFA Arts Leadership

I am so sorry to hear about Paul.  Although I did not know him well, I have nothing but positive, warm memories of him.  Every conversation I had with him on campus was a delight.  He was always energetic, caring, personable, and convivial.   The sadness I am feeling pales, I'm sure, in comparison to what you and others closer to Paul are feeling, but it is a testament to how effortlessly and deeply he touched those around him.  My heart goes out to you, Paul's family, and all those who knew him well.  Mark Cohan, PhD, Anthropology and Sociology

Paul was always very friendly, kind, and generous in sharing his knowledge of French.  I would like to pay tribute to Paul’s work of translation, The Incarnate Subject: Malebranche, Biran, and Bergson on the Union of Body and Soul by Maurice Merleau-Ponty  (Author), Paul B. Milan (Translator) (2002) and Desire and Distance: Introduction to a Phenomenology of Perception by Renaud Barbaras  (Author), Paul B. Milan (Translator) (2005).  And I found in my e-mail account Paul’s response to my query about how to translate “dépaysement.” It made me smile. How apt for our current times. “Bonjour Hazel, Dépaysement" is usually translated as "disorientation" ... another possibility would be "change of scenery" depending on the context.  I hope this is helpful.  Bon weekend, Paul.  Hazel Hahn, PhD, History

I am deeply saddened by Paul’s passing.  It is hard to believe he will not be around to grace us with his presence. I will always remember the many conversations we had about his students and his program in Mexico, helping build houses for the needy. He had a profound passion for teaching and student development that will be sorely missed.  He always chatted with me in Spanish about his love for global education, and he did it very well. My condolences to the Department, his wife Nancy and his whole family. Cecilia Simpson, Modern Languages and Cultures Department

I had the immense pleasure to teach with Paul 3 times in the French-in-France program in my early years at SU.  They were truly the best experiences of my teaching career.  His passion for students, for learning, for cheese and wine, for philosophy and hiking, were infectious. The first year we were in small apartments, it rained incessantly, the laundry hung around the room-- molding not drying--my French sucked but Paul’s joy, his humanity and his care for me transcended all that and the experience was truly wonderful.  Looking at France through his eyes made me fall in love with the country; seeing SU through his eyes made me want to be a part of it for life. Rest in Peace Paul. Tom Taylor, PhD, History

I am deeply saddened to hear of Paul's death. He was one of those people who was so animated that it was hard to imagine that he would ever not be around. His contributions to the community at Seattle University were far ranging, from supervising French abroad programs to translating an essay by Maurice Merleau-Ponty into English. He was at Seattle University when I came in 1976 and had already taught here for a number of years. Some time ago we played tennis together at Volunteer Park--and he typically won! Steen Halling, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Psychology

I couldn’t believe that a “See you next quarter, Paul!” has just become the last word I said to Paul after 18 years of working, sharing ideas and having casual conversations together on a daily basis. Paul is truly a mentor to me too and a great man who likes taking actions more than he talks. I’ll miss him as a colleague, a mentor and a friend for a very long time. Ming Feng, PhD, Modern Languages and Cultures

Paul Milan (center) and colleagues at SU commencementI am deeply saddened by the passing of Paul Milan, a great friend, generous colleague, and wonderful person. To me, he was a mentor, and it was him who encouraged me to start working on Asian Studies and then International Studies. He and I worked together and received a couple of DOE grants and we also worked together on other projects. He taught me a lot over past many years. I was always impressed by his passion to the students, to language learning, and global education. He was one of the most generous people who contributed so much to our students, colleagues and the university. I will forever miss him. Kan Liang, PhD, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

I will always remember the way he “jumped” into conversation with me, like picking up a thread that has been left from the last time, maybe months ago, as if only a moment had gone by…walking along campus.  I can hear his voice exactly.  And all the fun we had talking about Moliere. Ki Gottberg, Performing Arts and Arts Leadership

Like so many others, Paul’s passing brings me profound sadness and wonderful memories. I echo my colleagues’ remembrance of Paul’s personal warmth, his commitment to SU students, and his enthusiasm for global study. In addition to his many contributions to the French program and Modern Languages Department, Paul directed the International Studies program and remained an active and productive participant in the program right up to his retirement from SU. I remain forever thankful for his presence in INST. My heart goes out to you, Victor, and to his family and other close friends grieving this great loss. Robert Andolina, PhD, International Studies

I’m saddened by the loss of our colleague, Paul Milan. His generous spirit was an inspiration to so many. I’ve included a photo of him in Mexico with Esperanza. That warm smile fills my heart with joy. The study abroad program connected to Esperanza is one of his many legacies. The 25 year partnership between SU and Esperanza was documented in an article we co-wrote last year titled “Using Head, Heart and Hands to (De)construct Community Development in Tijuana, Mexico” for Jesuit Higher Education: A Journal. Paul motivated so many to serve the greater good for the sake of our institution and our humanity. I’m grateful to him for his powerful example of love and care. Audrey Hudgins, EdD, Matteo Ricci Institute

I also join our community in grieving the loss of Paul. As others have already expressed, I will always remember him as a kind, caring, and engaging colleague whose dedication to educating our students was exemplary.  Under his selfless leadership, the International Studies program grew to more than 110 majors at a time when there were no other faculty housed in the program – one can only imagine how much time and effort he put into student advising!  His long-standing work with Esperanza in Tijuana, and the vast number of students he accompanied there over the years, is testament to his commitment to social justice. Rest in peace, Paul. Marc McLeod, PhD, International Studies

Sad and devastating. Paul was also a mentor and a friend to me. We shared the same office, and I will always remember our conversations on literature, art, religion, sports, food...and so many subjects. What a pure heart, what an intelligent and humble man. Meeting Paul also changed my life in many ways. There is nothing I can say that would describe what Paul Milan was to me. May his soul rest in peace. May his spirit continue to inspire us. My condolences to the whole Seattle University community. Paul tu vas me manquer. EL Hadji Malick Ndiaye, PhD, Modern Languages and Global African Studies

I’m so very saddened by his passing.  I heard about his illness a couple of weeks ago and was able to reach out to him, for which I am grateful.   Paul and I were sidewalk buddies – our paths would frequently intersect on the lower mall as we were going to and fro from classes and meetings.  We’d always stop and chat.  Paul helped me plan a surprise trip to Paris for my spouse a number of years ago and in thanks I brought him a loaf of bread I’d baked based on loaves I’d tasted on the trip.  That created an ongoing exchange – I’d drop loaves by his office or leave them in his mailbox and a few days later a bottle French wine would appear in my mailbox.  I think we both were convinced we were getting the best end of the deal.  I worked with Paul on learning communities and on a couple of committees, but mostly I knew him as a friendly, helpful, and humble colleague.   I’ll miss him. Jeffrey S. Philpott, PhD, Communication

I join my colleagues in sending my condolences to Victor and the Modern Languages department. I will miss Paul’s genial presence and our many conversations about literature, the South Asian community, our students, and travel. Rest in Peace, Paul. Nalini Iyer, PhD, English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

I’m so very sorry  Victor for the loss of your friend and colleague Paul. This is a loss not just for you but for the department , for his family and friends and for us here at SU. I join with the rest of our colleagues in sending you condolences and prayers in hopes that you may be accompanied in your grief – that we may be accompanied in our grief. Jeanette Rodriguez, PhD, Theology and Religious Studies and Interim Director, Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture

I’m so sad to hear this. Paul was so kind and generous. I remember my first year at SU. He barely knew me and offered to translate an article I wanted to read that was only published in French. He was so much a part of SU for so many years and did so much to contribute to the warmth of the community. My condolences to you, Paul’s family, and to all who were close to him. Jacqueline B. Helfgott, PhD, Criminal Justice

Paul was a gracious presence on campus. His humility, care and warmth are now part of the legacy of his department and college. Like many have already mentioned, Paul was able to connect with everyone - his colleagues, students, alumni. I remember years ago now, the wonderful wine auctions he and Jim Hembree hosted for university alumni and friends. He pulled those evenings off with his usual panache, even when it wasn’t clear if all the wine would arrive in time. ‘Cool as a cucumber’ as they say.  I know he rests in peace and send his family my thanks to them for ‘lending us Paul’ all these years. Peace to you. Kevin Krycka, PsyD, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences

I was so sad to hear about Paul.  Paul had a tremendous smile, a distinctive voice, an inquisitive and open demeanor.  That is how I remember him… asking questions with genuine curiosity and care.  I often remember Paul when he was with Victor.. both of them joking and laughing.  Paul was a light on our campus.  My condolences to his colleagues, friends and family. Carol Wolfe Clay, Professor Emeritus, MFA Arts Leadership

Dear Colleagues, I want to express by deep condolences to you for the loss of Paul Milan.  Paul greeted me with genuine welcome when I arrived in 1989.  At that time modern languages and sociology were housed together in Casey and he was a great colleague. We worked together on a number of projects including learning communities.

Paul was always so generous and enthusiastic.  He cared deeply for colleagues and students.  He kept me on my toes, making sure that the department had the resources it needed for learning communities and other projects.  I was not always able to meet his high standards!  He knew what Seattle University could become and expressed his frustration when the university did not respond as he knew it could.  I never doubted Paul's deep commitment to the university and the members of our community.  He was selfless in his work and his tireless dedication made the university a much better place to be for both students and faculty.

I will miss his bright smile.  He always had some welcome words, always interested in the world and what was going on, and brimming with ideas.  For me, Paul embodied the very best of Seattle University with a vision of what we are still striving to achieve.  I will miss him.

These are difficult times.  I wish you all the very best, take good care.  There is still much work left to be done to live up to fulfill Paul's vision. All my very very best. Charles Lawrence, PhD, Sociology

So many people remember Paul in so many different ways and so lovingly.  I am touched by all the comments in memory of this gracious and kind man.  Paul was one of the early and enthusiastic supporters of writing across the curriculum, but he had a special interest in reflective writing.  I and my colleagues Larry Nichols and June Johnson had many meetings with him—often over coffee—to talk about the sequence of reflective assignments he would use in his service learning courses in Mexico or in his study abroad programs.  Reflective writing focuses on the whole person, encouraging students to think deeply about their learning and to apply it to their own lives.  His assignment sequences helped me and my writing colleagues understand more fully the value of reflection and to develop better ways to teach it.  How he advanced reflective writing at Seattle University is just another dimension of this remarkable teacher and colleague.  I also appreciated Dean Powers comments on Paul’s role at sustaining SU through its financial crisis in the early 70s, an historical lesson that was new to me.  Paul embodied the spirit and ethos of Seattle University.  His spirit is still here. John Bean, PhD, Emeritus Professor of English

I found this picture in my memories from December 2013 when I had the honor of travelling to Tijuana Mexico with Paul, who we affectionately called “Pablo” in Mexico. Paul was such an inspiration to the group – such a humble and caring human being. Everyone was impressed by how hard he worked and his positive attitude really carried us through some physically and emotionally challenging times. Over the years working with Paul, I was always struck by how student-centered he was. He was so adaptable and willing to learn and grow alongside his students. I will never forget him. May he rest in peace. Laura Hauck-Vixie, Arts and Sciences Advising Center

Paul Milian in Tijauna, Mexico, with students

What a loss to hear of Paul Milan's passing. Because I don’t receive SU A&S emails, John Bean kindly send me Victor’s post and those that responded to it. Through John, I’d like to add my voice as another colleague who enjoyed Paul and was inspired by his consistent kindness and positivity.

Initiating what became one of my favorite faculty collaborations while I was at SU, at one point Paul came to me looking for help with crafting a new writing assignment for his service learning course to Mexico. He was seeking a way to help his students deepen their learning while also specifically demonstrating what had most influenced it.  Because one of our veteran writing consultants had previously taken his course, Paul welcomed including her in our planning.

Although we did create an enjoyable and effective assignment for his students, what I remember most is our joyful and engaging collaboration, embracing the best of what the student, Paul, and I could bring to the project. Then true to how I knew him, many times after we’d created that assignment Paul thanked me and spoke of its usefulness.

Especially through that small project, I experienced what Maria Bullon-Fernandez wrote when she said that Paul “helped us see ourselves as members of a community." He always made me feel seen as a particular, valuable colleague and person -- a peer in our shared love of teaching, learning, and doing our best to serve our students and others.  I knew him as a remarkably practical spiritual person who day-by-day lived out his values, simply making those he encountered better for his presence. May he rest in peace. Larry C. Nichols, Writing Center Director (1993-2015)

I was so saddened to learn of Paul’s passing and have been crying as I read the tributes posted on his memorial page. I was a student on the 2000 French in France trip, so had the opportunity to study with Paul before during and after that trip. As others have shared, he was a kind, caring and passionate teacher. Because I moved back to Grenoble after having graduated from Seattle U I was also able to spend time with Paul on some of his other trips with students. He was a lovely person and my heartfelt condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues. Kelly Rigotti, Seattle U alum

I was very saddened to learn about Paul Milan’s passing. I first met him about thirty years ago, when I was teaching at the UW. We got on right away and remained very good friends ever since. Paul had an intense love of France, its language and culture and literature. His knowledge of and about France was absolutely amazing – better than many natives – and his command of the French idiom was just superb.

After I returned to France, Paul and I worked together (along with Victor and other SU faculty) over the years on a number of projects involving our French and American students, particularly on French in France when the programme was based in Nantes where I live and teach. During that time, we shared my office, and often taught in the same classrooms, and travelled together with students. Working with Paul was always a great pleasure, thanks to his kindness and his great patience – and he was a truly charming person. He loved life and people; he was devoted to his students.

Paul’s passing is not the end of a chapter but of a whole volume. I have nothing but lovely memories of our dear Paul. Jean-Jacques Malo, Université de Nantes, France

I was so sad to learn earlier today of Paul’s passing. As a member of the 2000 French in France class, I have such fond memories of Paul (and Victor) from our experience 20 years ago. Paul always brought an infectious passion for life, education, and all aspects of French studies to everyone who had the pleasure of working with, and learning from him.

That trip was one of the best, and most transformative, times of my life, combining a deep love and appreciation for the language and culture, with a reunification with the French side of my family. I am fortunate enough to go back to Grenoble on a very regular basis to visit my grandmother, and find myself retracing 20 years of memories each time I am there. Thank you, Paul, for many wonderful memories. My thoughts go out to your family and friends during this difficult time. Shane A. Plossu, Seattle University Alum

I believe I was in Paul’s initial French class in 66-67. I believe he was fresh out of a Masters program at Notre Dame? Class was held in the old Liberal Arts building. I somewhat “fell into his class” because I needed to fulfill a language requirement and having taken a year of French in high school, I thought this would be a slam-dunk A. Needless to say, I didn’t know Paul’s rigorous standards (and grading) when I began. He was such an engaging teacher that, even though it was an 8-hour class, taught from 8-10 A.M. Mon-Thurs, I went religiously (always a good thing at a Catholic University) for 3 consecutive quarters! So, instead of 4 credits, I ended up with 24 French language credits.  That’s high praise for any teacher who can get an undergrad to attend an 8 AM class four days/week for 3 quarters, n’est-ce pas? Tom Shanahan, ‘69

I am deeply heartbroken when i learned of Professor Paul Milan passing.

I am one of those people who are blessed and lucky enough to have the honor of knowing him not only as a mentor and professor but also as a friend. My gratitude and respect extend beyond being his student but as someone whose future was brighter because of his aid during my difficult time in Seattle University international office mishap with immigration that affected my status for graduation. As mentioned by many people's testimonies, his extraordinary kindness touches everyone he knew. He used his wisdom and power to help those in need whoever they are, and in my case, he also did. He was my Angel in shining armor and indeed, as many agree, had been a light in this world.

Although I have only had the privilege of studying and getting to know him in his French class for three quarters in 2005, there is no doubt his intelligence, his deep passion for French and education, his wisdom, his empathy, and his generosity has deeply touched many lives including mine. His passion of French was very contagious and has brought so much happiness that some of my friends joke about me being in the wrong major in business.

My last memory of him was in 2011 when I was getting married and he had  prepared me a very thoughtful gift of a French cooking book and said “what made a home is to have a homecooked meal everyday no matter how simple” and no matter how simple that message and our long talk about literature, life and family afterwards, it was one of the best gift and provision for my journey ahead. Even in the short time I knew him there were too many positive things and memories to say in few sentences. I will strive to be a better person just because of his example. He will be greatly missed.

My deepest condolences to his family and friends.  I pray he Rest in Peace and his legacy will live on.  Au revoir Professeur. Felicia Widjaja Pranata, Class of 2005, Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration Finance