Contra Costa College lost one of its warmest, most passionate and tenacious professors over the summer.
Adjunct English professor Wendall Douglas, 36, suffered a stroke on July 16, and then died on July 20.
His cause of death is listed as acute respiratory failure followed by a pulmonary embolism, a condition in which one of the arteries in the lungs becomes blocked by a blood clot.
“I’ll never forget the moment I found out,” RanaLee Berman, College Skills Center tutor and long-time friend of Douglas, said. “His students loved him and he did a lot more than just teach here. He and his colleagues became a team, and for everyone who knows him it is just so shocking.”
Brandy Gibson, tutoring center coordinator, said, “When I heard I remember thinking it was impossible. I’ll miss his warm smile. I was guaranteed a smile and a hug every day I saw him.”
Gibson, who had met Douglas during their time at graduate school at San Francisco State, said he was one of her closest friends and a wonderful colleague who, whenever asked, would be more than willing to help, be it for a student or fellow faculty.
“Throughout the (time we taught) here, we would have to do a lot of grading, so (Douglas and I) had grading parties and would hang out and just make it easier for ourselves when we could,” she said. “Plus, he was a smart-ass, and I get along famously with smart-asses.”
For as witty and playful as Douglas was, he was also a dedicated professor who held his students to high standards, Gibson said.
“In class, he was tough. He wanted his students to understand the expectations of college-level courses,” she said.
Liberal Arts Division Dean Jason Berner can attest to that fact.
“His idea was that in order to prepare students and further their education, they should be held at four-year expectations,” Berner said. “His writing assignments were of that (rigor), and he wanted students to properly comprehend rules and guidelines.”
Berner said that Douglas was very busy in his teaching career as he was both an adjunct at CCC and a part-time lecturer at SF State, and at times would overload himself with classwork.
“But he was a warm person and I know his students will miss his sense of humor,” he said.
Berman said how surprised she is at Douglas’ wife, Nicole, a current CCC student, for her perseverance.
Nicole Douglas said that despite the hardship of attending CCC and continuing to live nearby, she is glad that she remained enrolled after the tragedy.
“I wanted to leave my house and Contra Costa County because I didn’t want to be around here,” she said. “But, after a few weeks of misery, I came to the realization that if I don’t go to back to school I’m putting off my graduation once again.”
A health and human services major, Nicole Douglas said that two years ago, while eight weeks pregnant with their daughter Tatiana, she experienced a severe medical condition involving one of her ovaries, placing her and Tatiana’s lives at risk. Despite being close to graduation and transferring at the time, she placed any potential school plans on hold.
“If Wendall were alive he would be furious if I didn’t continue,” she said. “Despite thinking about dropping out, I have to remind myself no, no, no, stick with the plan.”
Her motivation to continue is attributed to how Douglas would constantly attempt persuading everyone around him to advance their education.
She said that students should know her late husband’s academic stir and determination came from his early failures in his educational upbringing.
“A lot of people don’t know, but Wendall got kicked out of high school for gang banging, but still he became a great testament to the phrase, ‘no excuses,’“ she said.
She said Douglas had attended Southwestern College while living in National City, California, and then UC San Diego for his undergraduate degree and SF State for his master’s degree.
“His ambition and determination was something I praised about him,” she said. “He was always working hard to correct himself — academically, professionally or personally, he would try to do better.”
Douglas’ condition during the hospital stay gradually started to improve and, despite not speaking, he was able to communicate through writing and even began to walk.
“I didn’t get it. On Sunday he was fine and we watched (a movie) together and we were comfortable; we cuddled and I was going to spend the night, but he wanted me to go home and get rest,” she said. “He wrote down that he was going see me in the morning.”
Douglas died that following Monday.
“I still don’t understand. Logically I understand it, but emotionally I don’t understand how it could happen,” she said.
Douglas’ memorial service was held on July 28, his 37th birthday.
“He was the most amazing dad any child could have. He was always insistent on changing diapers; he would come home and spoil Tatiana — daddy’s little girl,” Nicole Douglas said. “Tatiana had him wrapped around her fingers and toes.”
Tatiana turned 2 years old on Saturday.
Moving forward, Nicole Douglas plans to finish her associate of arts degree and transfer this semester, preferably to SF State due to her interest in the history program at the university.
“I would like to focus academically and take care of my baby,” she said. “I know that I’m not the only person who lost somebody incredibly important. I feel more sorry for the college community than I do myself.
“Of course I miss him terribly — he was my husband and the father of my child. But I’m also a student, and I know that loss is hard for his students and for future students.”