Students and Colleagues Remember Dr. Tom Poe

In the days following the passing of Dr. Tom Poe, a beloved professor in the Film and Media Studies Department, students and faculty reflected on their time spent with him and the impact he had on their lives.

“I first knew Tom when I decided to take a film class. He was teaching a course at the Tivoli and I just thought it would be fun,” said UMKC graduate John Beatty. “My first impression of him was immediately that he was full of knowledge and could teach in a way that made it exciting to learn.”

Professor Mitch Brian had the unique experience of first meeting Dr. Poe as a student, then working for him as T.A. before being hired as an Associate Teaching Professor in the Film and Media Arts Department alongside Dr. Poe.

“He had an absolutely unequivocal love of cinema. He loved movies and he loved sharing his love of movies with other people,” said Brian. “That’s why he was my favorite teacher.”

This guidance and support didn’t end after Brian graduated, but continued throughout their entire relationship.

“Whenever I teach at the Tivoli, I think about him. I not only think about him teaching there, but I also think about the first year when I was a teacher and he sat in the back row to make sure I was doing okay,” said Brian. “It’s very important to me.”

Dr. Lyn Elliot, who worked alongside Dr. Poe with Professor Brian, helped take over some of his classes when he could no longer teach.

“He never lost delight in his topic and he was able to convey that with every class,” said Dr. Elliot.

Dr. Elliot said she was impressed by the enthusiasm Dr. Poe’s students had for silent film, a genre that typically does not drum up much excitement among students.

This picture, posted by Dr. Poe on his Facebook page after the 2013 commencement ceremony, was captioned with the declaration that he loved his job.

This picture, posted by Dr. Poe on his Facebook page after the 2013 commencement
ceremony, was captioned with the declaration that he loved his job.

“He was a real ambassador for film in all forms,” said Dr. Elliot. “­Not just for what is immediately entertaining.”

In addition to inspiring students with his immense knowledge of film, Dr. Poe had a knack for helping people find their path.

“He was instrumental in getting me hired at UMKC,” said Brian.

For Beatty, Dr. Poe played a significant role in his decision to major in Film and Media Arts.

“He was one of the first people to help me discover how much I love film and filmmaking. You could tell how passionate he was. That’s something that I’ve taken to as well and am extremely grateful for,” said Beatty. “You should always be passionate about what you do and Tom certainly exemplified that attitude. He helped me do the same.”

For all of his contributions to the film community on campus and in Kansas City, it is his bright personality and intelligent sense of humor that students and colleagues will miss the most.

“Tom was definitely an optimist,” said Dr. Elliot. “He was almost childlike in terms of his undimmed enthusiasm. Life had not beaten him down and he was not jaded at all.”

On the day of Dr. Poe’s death, Brian remembered feeling frustrated at a myriad of problems that had popped up on top of the devastating news that his longtime friend and mentor had died. Suddenly, the image of Dr. Poe laughing popped into his head and he instantly felt a little better.

“I will always remember his sense of humor and his ability to laugh at the absurd,” said Brian, who felt that Dr. Poe would’ve likely cracked a smile at the comedy of errors that coincided with hearing the news of his passing.

“He had a wonderful ability to see the absurdity in situations and to kind of accept that and take pleasure in it. That was one of the things I really loved about him,” said Brian, who went on to note that this ability to laugh at the absurdity of life never led him to discredit the frustration people felt in tough situations. “He was always very empathetic.”

This empathy extended to everyone who crossed paths with Dr. Poe. He frequently stayed in touch with former students and was known for his genuine concern for the well-being of those around him.

“My best memory of Tom is my last memory of him. I saw him a few months ago at a wedding he was officiating, and he told me how proud he was of what I and my fellow former film students were doing after college,” said Beatty. “It’s a hard memory to think about now that he’s gone, but it will always remind me how grateful I am for having known such an extraordinary person.”

Dr. Elliot also reflected on her favorite memory of Dr. Poe, which still makes her laugh to this day.

“Last Spring, Tom turned 70 and a friend gave him tickets to see Hamilton. He always loved musicals,” said Dr. Elliot. “He loved the show so much that he wore the shirt around for a week after getting back. He carried the playbill everywhere he went and told everyone about the show. He was like a teenager coming back from a concert, completely unabashed in his excitement.”

Poe, pictured here at the 1987 march on Washington, will be remembered for his valuable and brave contributions towards the struggle for LGBTQ equality.

Poe, pictured here at the 1987 march on Washington, will
be remembered for his valuable and brave contributions
towards the struggle for LGBTQ equality.

Those who knew Dr. Poe feel certain his legacy will live on, both inside and outside of the UMKC community.

“For one thing, we are finally going to have a film major at UMKC,” said Brian. “Tom’s been working on that for over 20 years.”

In the larger Kansas City community, Dr. Poe will be remembered for his many contributions that extend far beyond his professional field of expertise.

“Tom is leaving behind not just an enormous legacy in the film community, but he also had a huge impact on local government and was a pivotal leader in the LGBTQ community here,” said Beatty. “His activism has helped pave the road for equality for LGBTQ people like myself.”

More information regarding Dr. Poe’s extensive list of achievements and awards, both professionally and politically, can be found on kcur.org.

 sdanley@unews.com

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