Students, colleagues remember Dorothy Bishop as professor, friend and mentor

By David Matz

Imagine for a moment standing in a classroom at Watson Hall late at night.

All the other desks have been emptied for hours, except for one seat in the middle of the front row. The seat is taken by a small petite woman sipping on a cup of coffee starring intently while scribbling notes during a student’s 10 minute presentation.

After the student takes a final breath and completes the speech, the short woman in the chair spends the next couple of minutes critiquing every small detail of the speech’s content and delivery. This memory sticks very vividly in former NIU student Mark Reeves’ memory. A memory he shares with 40 years of students at NIU under the tutelage of the late professor Dorothy Bishop.

Bishop spent the better part of her lifetime teaching, mentoring and befriending students in her classrooms becoming a major influence in their personal and professional lives. From 1963 until 2003 Bishop spent her time as a professor in the Department of Communication and a debate coach to the NIU Forensics and debate team.

“Dorothy was one of the people who developed our forensics and debate programs into one of the best in the country,” said Gary Burns, chair of Department of Communication via e-mail. He was also a close friend and colleague with Bishop since he was hired by the university in 1988.

Bishop died of liver cancer on Nov. 8 leaving behind family members, thousands of former students, close friends and a teaching legacy that continues to change and shape students’ future at NIU.

“She represents the foundation and strong tradition behind competitive speaking,” said Judy Santacaterina. Bishop and Santacaterina shared a long and expansive relationship that spanned over 35 years. The relationship changed Bishop from a teacher, to a friend, and finally to a colleague but Bishop always remained a mentor to Santacaterina.

Santacaterina first met Bishop in 1975 as a 19-year-old freshman undergraduate. After meeting with Bishop during her advising hours and expressing interest in joining the Forensics and debate team, their student-teacher relationship began to flourish. Throughout Santacaterina’s undergraduate years she said, Bishop “really had a major influence” on her as she did with many other students during her four decades at NIU.

John Butler admits that his entire life was realigned after meeting Bishop in his political science class in 1989. Butler was a junior undergraduate when Bishop came to his class recruiting students for the forensics team. He joined the team and held a very close relationship with Bishop throughout his undergraduate years.

Even while he was earning his masters degree in rhetoric studies at NIU, Bishop was still a significant influence in Butler’s life, their relationship grew from being a student and teacher to becoming good friends that frequently kept in contact with each other. Santacaterina shared a similar relationship with Bishop.

After graduation, Bishop and Santacaterina’s relationship became a friendship. When Santacaterina took the job as director of individual events on the forensics team, she completed the cycle and began teaching and coaching alongside with her very own undergraduate teacher, friend and mentor. Although Santacaterina was working alongside her most beloved teacher it was never odd or hard to work with Bishop

“At the heart of the relationship, Dorothy will always be first and foremost my teacher, my mentor,” Santacaterina said.

She remembers going over to Bishop’s house on Russell Road, sitting on the sofa and telling Bishop of her personal and professional problems looking for guidance by her long time mentor.

It wasn’t long before Bishop was working alongside two students she taught and mentored since their undergraduate coursework. In 1998 Butler was hired as the director of the forensics team.

Butler remembers that the three of them created a great team that propelled the NIU Forensics Team to a new level of competition.

Bishop retired in 2003 and Butler retired from teaching in 2005 to work as a consultant. The friends continued to stay in close contact.

Santacaterina continues to teach and coach the NIU Forensics Team.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t share what she taught me with one of my students,” Santacaterina. She said she remembers Bishop to be an outstanding listener, a trait she tries to emulate.

“She had this way of allowing [the student] to discover the answers on your own. If I am one fourth of the teacher and coach she was, I will have been successful,” Santacaterina said.

Santacaterina said Bishop donated her body to NIU when she died so she could continue to teach students in her death. “Her light will shine and will continue to shine,” Santacaterina said.

Editor’s Note: The Northern Star did not mention the name of a woman in the photo with Dorothy Bishop and Judy Santacaterina. The woman pictured is Sue Doederlein, the associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.