It’s been 25 years since I marched as a student in Dr. WJ Julian’s “Pride of the Southland Band” (POTS) at The University of Tennessee. We learned this week that Dr. Julian passed peacefully, surrounded by family. As I have watched responses spiraling (inside comment for POTS band members) in text messages, Facebook posts, newspaper articles, and the like, I have been awash with memories of laughter, fear, stories, undying respect, and humility.
Dr. Julian (“Doc”) was a formidable force to be reckoned with. He demanded excellence of the world, not just his students. His standards were high at every point of expectation. He led by example and expected that example to be followed accurately, with great precision.
On the field, his band was a work of hard-earned art. For those who don’t grasp this, a 300-piece marching band is comprised of a lot of moving parts. Not only is it 600 feet, but it’s also 3,000 fingers, and those are just the ones that you see. It is an entire organization that comes together to “make magic happen.” It requires much from many, and Doc was relentless in his insistence of excellence at every level.
Doc was an elegant man with elegant taste and elegant expectations. Off the field, his expectations of good conduct, personal integrity, self awareness, and good manners never waned. He introduced thousands of young, impressionable, naive, and inexperienced people to foods, places, music, and experiences that would have been otherwise out of reach. He epitomized class and demanded it of others. He appreciated good service and insisted upon it for those he served (his students).
He leaves behind a legacy of accomplishment, long-standing traditions, stories upon stories upon stories, and the belief in a life well-lived. His investments in people have populated the world with teachers, scientists, artists, and scores of other professionals who carry a common experience. They were “raised Doc.”
Because I know that Doc had a keen sense of humor, I’ll close by sharing one story that belongs to me. Doc had a distinct dialect. Scores of people before and after me have done a fine job of impersonating him. In fact, we had (secret) competitions on some band trips that we called “Doc Offs.” As I recall, I fared pretty well.
I’ll let my friend and former band mate, Bill Moore, tell the story:
It was at the Cotton Bowl in 1990. Mike squeezes into the front of a packed elevator, says in his Doc voice “Oh, move back, will you?” to general laughter from the other kids.
From the back, another Doc voice answers, “Well, there’s not any room back here…”
Mike drops into his normal voice and says “Hey, that’s pretty good…”
“Damned well ought to be!”
It was Doc.
Needless to say, my heart stopped momentarily.
Godspeed, Dr. WJ Julian. You have left an indelible mark on this earth, and your light will be greatly missed.