A moment of Clarence

Dr. John B. Noftsinger 1963-2011

George Bailey got a second chance.  John Noftsinger didn’t need one.

When Dr. John B. Noftsinger, vice provost for research and public service of James Madison University, died unexpectedly in November, the Madison community was left with a gaping wound and a sudden and cataclysmic reminder of the impact one life can have. It was as if we all experienced a Clarence moment, the kind that George Bailey had in the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, when Clarence the angel finally convinces George that his life mattered.

John knew what George had to learn. He understood the tremendous impact that one person can have on the lives of others. He lived it, modeled it and taught it everyday. In a life that was too short, his impact on others, like that of George Bailey, was remarkable. He touched and changed the lives of hundreds — or more accurately thousands when one considers the reverberation of his life’s work through students, staff, faculty, alumni and those whom they in turn will touch.

John’s death left us all with an enormous sense of loss, most profoundly because of the way he lived. He personified what it means to Be the Change. In the weeks since his death, I’ve thought about the lessons he left behind, lessons that we can all emulate. These, one might say, are John’s three lessons in how to Be the Change.

Dream big

Growing up in Roanoke, Va., John must have looked up at Mill Mountain and gazed at the city’s famous star. I am, of course, speculating, but somehow John learned how to dream big.  Many people dream, but John believed dreams were action items. Partnerships became living, breathing change agents to John, not simply legal documents but opportunities to make things happen. He also understood intrinsically that education has an enormous potential for making lives better, for preparing individuals for worthy lives. He was never limited by what should be, but inspired by what might be. This is how change begins, with a dream.

Be relational

People mattered to John. In fact, people were the impetus for everything he did. In the educational setting, he knew that it all came down to the individual. One young alumnus had shared how John called to check on his business venture after the young entrepreneur had left JMU. Those who worked with John at JMU and in Scouting saw him live that belief through rich and dedicated mentoring. Relationships become the bricks and mortar of change and the manifestation of dreams.

Work hard

When one looks at what John Noftsinger accomplished in 48 years, it is impossible not to realize how very hard he worked. He sparked more change, impacted more lives and left a greater legacy than most people blessed by lives twice as long. Perhaps because his own father had died early, John seemed driven, making the most of every day and every opportunity. His hard work paid off, and JMU is one of many beneficiaries. Others include the local community, students, higher education, Boy Scouts…..this list goes on and on and on.

No one will miss John more acutely this Christmas season than his wife Cindy and his family. It will be a tough Christmas, but I hope they all take comfort in the fact that while he lived, John Noftsinger made a huge and lasting difference. He changed the world while he lived, and his legacy, both personal and professional, will go on.

As much as he is missed, there is a consensus that his was a wonderful life. Clarence would be proud.

Read John Noftsinger’s Be the Change profile at http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/noftsinger.shtml


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

2 Responses to A moment of Clarence

  1. Pingback: A moment of Clarence – embracethejourney102016

  2. Rhonda Huffman says:

    Everything I read about John makes me wish I had known him personally. I feel privileged to know his wife, Cindy, and through her know of John. Truly he was a remarkable man who will be missed but will live on because he touched so many.


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