In Memory of Mark

On September 9, Mark Trojan passed away. The go-to guy in the ADIM Department of the Essex Campus and beloved VP of the Dundalk CWA Local 2111, he left some big shoes to fill. Death is never easy and we all grieve differently. I’m a notoriously sensitive person with a tendency to work through my feelings with writing. This is not intended to be upsetting or sad. This is just my way of telling a personal story. The story of my friendship with Mark Trojan. People have a million stories about Mark out there, but this one is mine.

I had gotten a new phone and somehow convinced him to let me take a picture of him… To this day I don’t understand why he let me, but could not be happier that he did.
While not as many people got to see this side of him, Mark was really a funny guy. He had the best jokes, a hearty laugh and his smiles were infectious.

Much like my fellow Fine Arts majors, I first knew Mark as the man who was always on the move. I’d see him walking from building to building, room to room. He’d walk through and make sure the computers were running properly. He’d make sure the work study hires were doing their jobs. He’d take a lap around the floor to get some exercise on his lunch break. I knew of him, but it wasn’t until last Spring that I officially met Mark Trojan, a man who later became like a father to me.

I learned about a need for lab aides in Digital Media during one of my classes. Loving the idea of having some income, I jumped at the opportunity. Immediately following that class, I went down to Mark’s office in the lighting studio. “Hi Mark! I’m Liberty and I would like to be your new work study.” With a side grin, he asked how I knew his name. “Don’t you recognize me? I’m the girl that sits outside your bushes at night… By the way, you should really trim the hedges.” And with his following hearty laugh, I knew I was in.

For the following weeks, I visited him every day. It started as checking up on the status of paperwork, but he started to talk to me more and more. Mark really loved to spin a yarn… When I started working, I expected to be tucked away and alone in a lab, but Mark must have seen a spark in my eyes. I love to learn. I really do. I love to learn how to do things, to be helpful, to be part of a team. I always told him “I may not know it, but I’d love to learn it.” So he taught me how to properly run the lighting equipment. He taught me how to use the super fancy printer, how to fix it and change parts. He taught me how to photograph and the importance of the mechanical pieces of a camera. He taught me about composition and editing. He taught me about life in general, the old days of CCBC, the evolution of his career and the best places in Baltimore to eat. He taught me the pure joy of laughing until you cry, something he ended up doing quite frequently. He taught me such an incredible amount, that I truly believe him to be an endless well of knowledge.

I met new people while working for Mark. He let me assist multiple professors, which turned into a great opportunity to learn even more about photography. In my time during Bob Creamer’s classes, I learned about correcting techniques and proper camera program modes. In Mark Lane’s class, I learned so much, you would have thought I was one of the students. When a visiting photographer came in to lecture, I could identify various aspects of the shot that would have otherwise been a complete mystery to me. I met his old office mate, Sharon Trumbull. While I’ve never had her as an instructor, through Mark I’ve become close with her. I loved hearing stories about the “good old days” when they shared a broom closet of an office and hearing the pranks they’d play on each other. It was a great way to see a different side to each of them. I even got to hear a different side about Will Niebauer and Sherwood, who Mark thought were a perfect pair. He’d show me pictures of construction with a young Will and Sherwood gracing some of the shots. Seeing a silly side to someone with such an intense title made it easier to approach him. I relished my times with each of these people and I could tell that it made Mark proud for me to be so helpful. In return, I was certainly not given the typical work study student duties. I got the hard jobs. The more involved jobs. The ones that I consider more fun, more challenging…

I came to trust Mark more than some people I’ve known for decades. He helped me with personal issues, gave advice and often let me vent frustrations. I can get incredibly emotional, wearing my heart on my sleeve. Saving me the embarrassment of weeping in the halls, he’d tuck me away in his office and allow me to get it out, then compose myself. There was never any judgement. There was just this unending acceptance. He’d tell me how proud he was of my good grades, my hard work and most importantly, my big heart. There was an instance where he was angry with me, but it was mostly because I was letting myself be taken advantage of and run down. He was really protective. Having heard so many stories about his family and his life, I felt so close to him. Everything he did-he didn’t have to.

Even when I wasn’t working, I found myself volunteering between classes, after classes and showing up for shifts early. If you needed to find me, chances were I was with Mark.  Ask anyone~I constantly said “I love my job.” And the best days were when I got to work with Mark. He’d say “I may be right, I may be wrong, but I’m always the boss!” Everyone else saw him as this scary guy trudging about the art department, but I saw this goofy guy, my Grumpy Guy. Anytime someone would talk about Mark, the first words out of my mouth were “I love Mark, he’s my Grumpy Guy!” He wasn’t Grumpy in my eyes, but I liked to tease him anyway. We just clicked. We were this seemingly odd pair, a 25-year-old girl who wears capes to school taking laps around the second floor with a 60-year-old man. We both needed the exercise and I was all too happy to have the company. We’d frequently have lunch together and his wife, who had packed his lunch every day for almost 40 years, even packed extra apple slices for me~my favorite!

It will be a long while before I forget about that Tuesday. I had woken up that morning before my alarm, not a typical occurrence. I worked on some photo edits, got some schoolwork done and even sent Mark an email…  “Good Morning Marky Mark!  I hope you’re enjoying your vacation. You deserve some rest & relaxation! Take it easy this week and I will see you Monday! You know I can’t resist coming & visiting :)    See you soon!“  A while later, I got the message that shattered my heart. It means the world to me that I was kept in the loop and got to find out from a friend than hear about it later and be blind sided right before class. (Thank you Doug. Again and again, thank you.) The rest of the day was viewed from behind a personal window of streaming tears, inconsolable sadness and emptiness. It just didn’t seem real. It’s his vacation week… no one saw it coming. But then again, would have expecting it really made it any easier? (As I write this, I still haven’t fully come to terms with it. The day he’s to come back from vacation is going to be bad. Knowing this, I would avoid me if possible on the 17th…)

My heart goes out to his family and friends. I know how deeply he loved them, and cannot imagine the pain they are in. From my little piece of the world, I spent days crying after having only known him a short time relative to anything he’s done. His family was his world. He was always so proud of his daughter, the teacher, the marathon runner and most importantly-his little girl. He adored his wife more than anything and I always saw that glimmer in his eye when he talked about her. It was a true honor getting to meet the woman behind the man when he brought her to school. He loved his brothers, his mother and his friends with such a deeply rooted intensity that I always imagined his emotions were an old tree, with big, strong, deep roots.

I never thought I would get to know the enigma known as the Mustachioed Man, the Lorax, the Photography Wizard, but I am so lucky to have done so. Words cannot due true justice to how much I will miss him, but I am forever in his debt for the impact he made upon me.

I encourage any and all of you to share some words about Mark in the comments below.