The Unmarked Field

by Ronald R. Thomas

On a beautiful July Saturday afternoon, my wife and I found ourselves sitting about midway up in the bleachers of Baker Stadium. Along with more than 1,000 others, we were overlooking Peyton Field and listening to the heartfelt tributes spoken about one of Puget Sound's genuine heroes. We had only just moved into town and took a break from unpacking boxes to attend this memorial service for Joe Peyton, a man we had never met, but who had-by all testimony-so clearly distinguished himself as a student and athlete at this university while a young man, and as a teacher, mentor, and friend to so many in the years after.

The event moved me deeply, reminding me of the profound importance of a single life, of the opportunity we are all given to touch so many in the course of our lives, and of what a special privilege it is to be part of a place like this university, where these opportunities are provided every day in such rich and varied ways. Mary and I were saddened that we had never met this man while he was alive; and at the same time we felt fortunate to have been given a glimpse of his life as it glowed in the lives of so many here at Puget Sound and echoed in the words of appreciation and celebration spoken in his honor.

As I listened to those tributes to Joe, I couldn't keep my eyes from gazing out on the new turf field that had been dedicated to him only a few weeks earlier. The field seemed to float there, gloriously green in what appeared an endless expanse of perfection on a perfect summer day. Swallows darted and swooped gracefully across this unmarked plot of land behind the people on the podium who spoke about Joe, as if to underscore and elaborate upon their words of love and praise. Following the swallows' flight, my eyes rose to our newest academic building just behind Peyton Field, and the campus that loomed graciously beyond it, as the fulfillment of the dreams and visions and sacrifice of so many who were determined to establish one of the nation's great centers of learning in what was then still the wild Northwest, in a city of destiny and in the Washington territory that soon would be officially accepted as a state in the union.

Just above the tree line and between some of the boughs of the great fir trees that grace our campus, I caught a glimpse of the blue-green waters of Puget Sound, and beyond that a corner of the downtown Tacoma skyline, with the suggestion of the majestic Mt. Rainier lurking behind the gathering clouds on the horizon. Just then, members of the Tacoma community were speaking about the leadership Joe had taken in the city, the things he had done and the lives he had touched beyond campus. I realized again how farsighted our founders had been, locating this campus between what would become a great urban center of civic opportunity and what would always be a spectacular natural setting.

My eyes came back to the green field before us, still perfect, a blank slate without a single line inscribed on it, and without an athletic contest yet played upon it. It was strange to see a football field without the grid of yard marks and goal lines, without numbers painted to measure progress or loss, no goal posts or end zones, no boundaries, no midfield, no beginning, no end.

Inevitably, as I listened to the last chords of the songs sung to honor Joe, pristine Peyton Field presented itself to me as a symbol of what lies before me as the 13th president of the University of Puget Sound, and what is facing all of us, together. Now it is time for us to enter this new field of opportunity, establish our goals, set forth a game plan, and mark our points of progress.

I felt the burden of this considerable responsibility, the debt I owe to all who have gone before me, many of whom, like Joe, I have never met but who have made it possible in this great place and with this great opportunity for us to meet together. I was lifted by the thought of that invisible team, by the many devoted alumni, past and present, and by the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, friends, and alumni who were quite visible in the seats all around me.

With his example before us, we will mark this field, and we will advance to our goals with the same determination, hard work, good spirit, and commitment to success that was embodied in the life of Joe Peyton. In the months ahead, I will share with you our goals and visions for Puget Sound, our plan for reaching them, and our first new initiatives, already underway. I am honored to have become part of the magnificent team of the University of Puget Sound, deeply impressed by the quality and character of my colleagues, and fully dedicated to making the next chapter in the history of this great university its most impressive yet.

--from Arches alumni magazine, Autumn 2003