Home > SarQasm, SarQasm Blog > Lessons Learned From Professor Carroll

Lessons Learned From Professor Carroll

A great man once told me that death is not the exception in this world, but the rule. Life, instead, is the exception. Everything dies, and it is only God Almighty Who is ever living. The irony in Professor Carroll’s passing is that when I faced difficulties in law school, he was my “go to” guy to talk these things out. My knee-jerk reaction to learning of his death was to, believe it or not, call him to talk about it. But as God’s plan would have it, that was not to be this time. Indeed, life is not the rule in this world, it is the exception. In the next world, however, life is the rule. And as John also means “ever living,” Professor Carroll should fit right in.

Professor Carroll first reached out to me in September 2010 when an unfortunate person was threatening to burn the Koran. He stopped me in the hallway, only to tell me that as a Christian, he condemned the act. With humility, he asked me not to judge Christians by that person’s actions. It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart now that he felt the need to have to clarify his religious perspective because of the actions of another. I had no idea who I was getting involved with, but I knew right then I was dealing with someone special. I just had no idea how special.

As I look over the hundreds of emails we exchanged since that initial meeting, and ponder over the countless lengthy conversations, the stolen five minute office pop in discussions, and the grab you in the hallway rants—I can’t help but reflect over the unique lessons I learned from him. I am good at only a few things. I know how to make my wife laugh, I’m pretty good at changing diapers, and every now and then, I write something that might be worth reading. This is one of those times—solely because of who this writing is about. These are the lessons I learned from Professor John F. Carroll.

Professor Carroll was a lover of God and of God’s actions. He did not believe in chance. We spoke often about the deliberateness of God’s actions, of our interactions, of our relationship. He walked in God’s path and followed Christ’s example. I see no coincidence that just two weeks ago, he and I took a walk around the same lake where he died, and he told me his family history in detail, all the way from the time of his great grandfather. In 20/20 hindsight, it almost feels like he knew another chance like that may not come. The honor I feel to have received that family history is not something I can express in words.

When I asked Professor Carroll to be the faculty advisor for the yet developing Muslim Law Student Association, I wrote, “I’m confident that our different backgrounds yet common goal will cater to the underlying theme of pluralism I hope MLSA will foster.  I already know my own perspective as a Muslim, but I cannot possibly know the perspective of a Christian on my own.  I think the sheer availability to collaborate as we tackle potentially tough or far reaching issues will be a great strength going forward.” In what I soon realized was classic Professor Carroll humility and compassion he replied, “Thank you for your kind words.  As I get to know you better, I am beginning to realize that I cannot understand even the Christian perspective without also understanding your perspective.” He graciously accepted the role, and became the catalyst that changed countless lives. Humility in God’s path—that was Professor Carroll defined.

Professor Carroll valued family more than anything. As a father myself, his example was priceless. He never cancelled a meeting we had scheduled for work or business reasons—but he did for his children. To be sure, even those were few and far between as I saw immediately that he viewed his students as extensions of his family. But the lesson learned was simple yet often forgotten—work supports family, never the opposite. Family, therefore, must always take precedence. Children must always take precedence. Professor Carroll had a brilliantly successful career, but was an even more successful father—because he put his children first. As the pressures of finding a career to support my family increase, I find solace that the right approach is one that puts my son first, now and always.

Professor Carroll would often stop me in the hallway completely out of the blue and say, “Did I ever tell you that I’m married to the single most incredible woman in the world?” I would  smile and respond, “I think so, but remind me again why?” Then, his piercing blue eyes would light up like the Fourth of July and he’d grin his patented grin (pun intended) and say, “Well her name is Maria, and she’s just outta this world.” And then, without pausing he would add, “Can I tell you why?” Laughing to myself and at the lovey dovey look in his eyes I would respond, “Sure, I would love to hear it.” Invariably he would throw his head back and start, “Ohhh you’re not gonna believe it…” a preface statement to him then telling me the latest and greatest thing he realized about her. As my wife and I celebrate five years together this year, the lesson I learned from Professor Carroll is profound; Never be satisfied with merely falling in love years ago. Without saying it even once, and only leading by example, Professor Carroll taught me that if I can’t find new things to love about my wife as the years pass by, then not only am I doing our marriage a disservice, but I’m doing my wife a disservice. A healthy and lasting marriage depends on continuously learning how to appreciate one another, not merely in vows made years ago. This is how he lived his life with his wonderful Wife, and what a beautiful example they set.

Professor Carroll loathed mere words and instead embraced action, often citing James 2:14-26, that faith without works is dead. Every time we concluded a meeting in his office, either he, or I would say a prayer for God to strengthen us in our resolve to fulfill the task we had set out to complete. And then, he would work like a man possessed, one who somehow knew that it would soon be time to return to his Creator. He refused to put things off until tomorrow because of his knowledge that it might not come, because of his recognition of God’s Grace in having given him today, so why waste it? His lesson was one of abolishing complacency, destroying procrastination, and carpe diem.

Professor Carroll was a brilliant scholar and an even more gifted teacher. He did not believe in memorization–he believed in learning. He spent an entire semester coaching myself and a fellow law student, Brandon Jaycox, on how to become better negotiators. But his lesson had a deeper meaning for life. We cannot memorize how to be compassionate, sincere, loving, and gracious. We can only learn these behaviors, and impart them to others. Recognizing this principle, Professor Carroll made sure his students learned, never memorized. Recognizing this principle, Professor Carroll made sure his students learned how to be compassionate, sincere practitioners, not plastic replicas. He invited his students to his home to have dinner with his wonderful family. My family and I were so blessed to have dinner at the Carroll residence last year. During a dinner at our home months later, Professor Carroll and I sat out on my back porch for what seemed like hours, discussing life, family, children, and yes, even the law. It seemed no matter the topic, Professor Carroll was able to teach it in ways few others could even begin to comprehend.

I can go on about the lessons Professor Carroll taught me, but I will stop with this last one for now.  Perhaps most remarkable about all of the above experiences I’ve shared is that I never once had Professor Carroll as my Professor. And his gracious treatment of me was not the exception, but the rule. The more I reflect on his contribution to humanity, the more I am in awe of his wonderful commitment to the greater good.

An ancient proverb reminds us that when a person is born, he is crying in pain while everyone else is laughing in joy. And that when that person dies, he is laughing in joy while everyone else is crying in pain. Just as the crying child may not understand why everyone is laughing at his trauma, we, as children of God, cannot fully comprehend Professor Carroll’s laughter as we shed our tears. I take comfort, however, in knowing that his laughter is from basking in God’s glory and in knowing that we will soon meet again, God willing. His laughter is in knowing that this world, this life, is a test, and by God’s Grace, Professor Carroll passed that test. And thus the final lesson; one demonstrated even through his death.

Professor Carroll reminds us that once we exert our God-given efforts to our full capacity, we must have trust in God that He will fulfill His promise, and provide as only He can. My prayer is not only for Professor Carroll, but for his family. May God provide for them as He always has, as only He can, and continue to comfort them in this time of trial. I can provide them only with the words of the Qur’an which reminds believers, “From God we are and to God must we return,” and the words that Professor Carroll himself shared with me in an email many months ago as I struggled through a difficulty of my own, “my prayer for you tonight is from the Unique One, Jesus,In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So take heart my friends, and congratulate Professor Carroll, for he too has overcome the world. He was no doubt too good for it. When our time comes, may it also be because we have overcome the world.

Until we meet again Professor Carroll, peace be upon you.

The Christian Muslim Bridge at Richmond Law: Op Ed about Professor Carroll published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on March 17, 2012

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  1. ASKarim
    March 10, 2012 at 5:03 am

    This seems like a wonderful man and you have provided a perfect tribute to him and his family. May you be amply rewarded for your continued work and service to humanity. Peace!

    • March 10, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      He reminded me a lot of Brother Muhaimin Karim Shaheed. Both shared the same passion for God and family, both shared the same love of service to humanity. I can just see the sitting together and enjoying each other’s company right now.

  2. March 10, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Death is hard to understand and even tougher to experience. May God strengthen those who used to enjoy the shade of this beautiful tree.

  3. Meg Traynham
    March 10, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I, too have been touched by John Carroll’s life and deeply saddened by his death. Our families grew up together in Bon Air, Virginia. I was his swim team coach at the local pool. He was the nicest kid, hardest worker, happiest guy I knew. He came from a wonderful family which paved the way to him becoming the wonderful husband and father you have described. My son, Ben, had the privelage of being one of his Law Students who was invited to hims home for dinner. It was that night they connected the dots and realized the family connection. Ben was so touched by John and his family and told me what a wonderful man and father he was. I am thankful that John was ale to be such a wonderful role model for my son and hundreds of other students he touched. My prayers go out to the entire Carroll family including John’s wife and children as well as his parents, his sisters and their families. Pece be with you all. Meg Traynham

    • March 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      I was at that dinner with my family. What a wonderful evening…one that is sure to remain a lifelong memory.

  4. Kim
    March 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    This may well be my favorite thing you’ve ever written, which is saying a lot. Prayers to you, my friend.

    • March 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      Very thoughtful of you Kim. Thank you.

  5. Patrice Newnam
    March 11, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Beautiful tribute

  6. Leisa S
    March 12, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I did not have the privilege of knowing John personally, but his family is a living testimony of who he is, was, and forever will be. Thank you for so powerfully and eloquently sharing his impact on your life. May God continue to bless you as you remember his example.
    Micah 6:8

  7. Laurence nordvig
    March 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

    This is a touching reminiscence, but tragically misses the whole lesson of John’s life. I kept waiting to read of your conversion out of Islam and into a new life, committed to Jesus Christ. The secret behind John’s life was Jesus Christ. As a faithful Christian, John would have you know that salvation comes from Christ alone, for a very simple reason: Only Jesus is God in the flesh. This is why John referred to Jesus as the Unique One. Only His death matches the perfect sacrifice required to pay the penalty for your sin. Mohammed can never do this. If John knew he only had one more conversation with you, surely he would emphasize that point. The bible says, in 1 John 5:10-12, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Without acknowledging Jesus as your personal Lord, and the only Savior of your soul, you will not see John in Heaven. Please, don’t let all the time John invested in you go to waste in the end. As touching as your writing is, the greatest memorial you can give to John is to commit your life to Jesus Christ, then tell others how instrumental John was in introducing you to Him…

    • Scott Norman
      March 13, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      I am surprised that this was posted and is a complete and total disrespect to John and Mr. Rashid. Their friendship is clear and for you to post this is low.
      Mr. Rashid,
      I am Maria’s cousin. I had been away from my family and did not have the pleasure of knowing John that well. Your thoughts, admiration, and reflections over the “little things” that made him your friend marks you as a rare man and true friend. I thank you for giving me an inside view of his life.

      Scott Norman

      • March 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

        Thank you Scott, for your kind words. Professor Carroll was an incredible human being, I miss him immensely.

  8. Aimee
    March 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Beautifully written, truly a great man. I was blessed to have both Mr. And Mrs. Carroll as my high school teachers. They both are Godly people, and consider myself very fortunate to have had them in my life. He will be missed, my prayer is for his family, may God grant them the peace only He can give.

  9. Lauren Sampson
    March 12, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I know Professor Carroll’s daughters, and I wish I had knew him. From reading his insight into the different aspects of the world and aspects of God’s actions, I have truly been inspired. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  10. March 12, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Thanks for writing this from your perspective. I knew John from Church, but it is especially valuable and inspiring to hear how a brother lives out the values we preach withing those walls.

  11. David Fahy
    March 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    I enjoyed hearing hearing parts of this when you spoke after the celebration of John’s life this afternoon. John is my cousin and, though I spent time with him and knew he was a man that loved his family and the Lord, I never realized just how special he was until hearing reflections like yours and others this weekend. You’re right – John was too good for this world. Thank you for sharing your memories Quasim.

  12. Ann Procise
    March 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I know John from his wife’s side of the family and when I heard the news of his death it was as if I too had lost a family member because that is how they make you feel…like family. I work with Tom and Matt Reynolds, Maria’s dad and brother. They are a wonderful family and I am so very lucky to have them in my life. Matt is the one that told me to read this because he (as many others) has been touched by what you wrote. Thank you so much for sharing! My thoughts and prayers are with all of Johns family and friends!

  13. March 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Thank you all for your kind comments and prayers. I’m grateful to be able to spread the beautiful experiences and character of Professor Carroll with all those who loved him.

  14. Adam Steinman
    March 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I had the pleasure of working alongside John for many years at Hamilton Beach. We did much collaboration on projects and business operations. He taught many of us Engineers patent history, differences, and he facilitated many of us with being granted patents. He was sharp, dedicated, professional, and inspirational. I’ve followed his recent progress in the newspaper and am wholly saddened with his departure. I’ve been in communication with past colleagues and we all share the saw thoughts about his superb character.

  15. March 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing. What a well-written tribute. John was certainly a man who lived out his faith. We can rejoice knowing that he is with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    1 John 5:11-13 “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

  16. Sarah Poynter
    March 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    I am Maria’s sister and John’s sister-in-law. I met you and your beautiful wife and son on Monday. Thank you for being willing to share your thoughts and remembrances with us. Knowing John for over 25 years, and watching his life and his loves, I knew him well. Yet, you have made some keen observations on the life of John in your short time at U of R.

    His relationship with his Savior, the Unique One, came first in his life. The love and acceptance he received there allowed him to have an abundant and overflowing love for Maria, the children, and the world. You are correct, he was a deeply dedicated husband and father. Many times I have heard him praise his wife in and out of her company. The same observation that challenges you as a husband, also challenges me as a wife. I will always miss John, but I find great joy that you were able to learn so much from your time with him.

    He spoke of you. He felt honored that you would ask him, a Christian, to sponsor your group and he deeply desired to serve you well. Even though there could have been a great chasm between you because of your differing faiths, he invited you in with his first words of compassion and you responded. A beautiful picture. I pray that the same Savior which received John and gave him new life will comfort us all in our loss.

  17. Rick Albee
    March 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for this incredible and warm tribute to John Carroll. I had the privilege of knowing and working with John at a previous employer. You captured his essence remarkably and I could literally see him smiling and hear him laughing as I read your perfectly stated tribute. John was as inclusive, positive, and loving as anyone I’ve ever known. What a feat if only the rest of the world could catch on. Thank you again.

  18. Lynley Ruth Butt.
    September 20, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Dear Laurence Nordvig, Is it possible that you have missed the purpose of The Prophet’s longer life and struggle in God’s Cause…the example given to the strife-riven, many idol- worshipping tribal people of Arabia- and the many emissaries he sent in his life time- and also missed reading a really good translation of The Quran… something Christ was unable to directly give his followers- so that compilations began some time after… a Council in the 2nd ce AD… and after great slaughter of unitarian monotheists by Trinitarian Christian Romans …? That it is not a competition… but an affirmation of unity- at a time of the Dark Ages and after Christianity had suffered so much carnage between sects?
    Modestly the Prophet says he came to confirm what went before … and to lay the last ( missing) brick… in mankind’s foundations of faith…. in One Creator God- and calls for Mankind to bless all God’s emissaries /representatives/prophets and the Messiah… on earth… as a Comforter and exemplar on how to live our lives walking in the way of God’s grace. If we are saved – why wait until death- why not believe in Christ AND notch up the quality of our life. If we are not saved – then our actions belie what our mouths claim.
    If you believe in trying to heal rifts and issues within the Church between various sects… how much more should one exert for others OUTSIDE this idea that only Christians can merit salvation- no matter how ghastly individual Christian hypocrisy and sins- prejudice, judgemental with destruction of the other and disregard of the environment, science, and lack of conscience about how the other half lives- salvation through through blood price/debt. … is the only way. Certainly the Prophet appears to be in very close contact with God through the constant visitations and messages of Gabriel … so much so that I would say he was as equally as faithful a servant and comfort to us- in relaying Emmanuel “God with us” in his life unto his death as was is/ever shall be ( says the Quran) Christ the Messiah a faithful, obedient “son”…. who accepted ” In submission ” the cup given to him to drink”.
    An omniscient God must know about the coming of another and what his name and mission will be- after Christ- as Christ should surely have known too, and mentioned it to his apostles… as I believe he did. It is just that non-believers ” in the messenger following the messiah- had already sifted out certain ” gnostic ” gospels and such sayings as irrelevant to their exclusive belief needs…( scapegoat salvation through another’s blood and suffering) or which did not suit THEIR ( divisive/ selective/ruling) purposes. Fortunately, as a Christian confronted by Islam I was guided towards the ” double blessing” mentioned in The Quran and although I had to shed some miscellaneous misguided notions …( some with a lot of deep thought and soul searching effort- still The Quran IS- for thinking people who can read… not indoctrination… and I had many other questions answered to my satisfaction AND did not have to shed The Redeemer Christ. In Islam the Christ certainly is a unique Word from the Spirit of God- so confirms the Quran, while saying death on the cross was not final for him- since he was lifted up to a high place where he shall remain for ever…. and agrees that “every eye shall see him ( in truth) coming with clouds of God’s glory… at the end of this system of things…” So what is your quarrel? That this man was ” Not Converted”… and therefore in your book must go to hell? You may have lost sight of The Supreme Judge… one of grace and mercy… but the Prophet of Islam re-instated this and Muslims – by the main keep it ( save for the poor illiterate inflamed by inconsiderate and provocative slander and prejudice etc- such as we see has risen to a peak yet again…. after the long night of The Crusades nothing is really resolved… yet once again…) As I believed in One God and Ecumenical ethics, principles and Movement towards- not away from- the other, as a loving good ( Godly) Christian… so I can believe in One God over all in Islam… which embraces those who stubbornly stand apart- either leaving their judgment and behaviour to God to decide or remembering Christ said all he did was with the permission of The Father and may declare to some who feel assured of themselves- ” I never knew you!) …or indeed as I do, you might find yourself equally invited as are all People of the Book- to come to agreement … rather than ask in contravention of another’s guiding persona image…for conversions away from a Prophet who himself FOLLOWED Christ- historically, in mission, intent, good will, purpose, example … and said in addition- the greatest act is to free a slave, and gave clear rights to women ( as I believe Christ may have tried to do with his follower Mary of Magdala)… and looked for a beautiful unified purposeful hang-up free society -non-gender, non-clout- one beyond the authoritarian, didactic, sectarian- ridden, force-based biased society- but this is not at all clear since monastic priesthoods muddied the waters. Now the situation is that the Prophet and his followers are for the most part maligned and despised- just as Christ was… and in an unfortunate weakened position…. which is the death of many of them. Yet hard hearts cannot admit any blessings can come of other’s belief system and faith- which is perceived as an unjustified needless misguided sin- Nor say as Christ did- to the thief suffering next to him- “Rise for your faith has freed you- and you will be with me in Paradise.

  1. March 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm

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