Illustration by Sergio Ingravalle
MICHIGAN MUSINGS: GO BLUE, DOC!
On an oppressively hot Ann Arbor night in August 1968, my freshman orientation group and I filed into Hill Auditorium. We were there to learn some U-M traditions, including “The Victors” and all the words of “The Yellow and the Blue.” The faculty included Professor George Cavender, who had brought a dozen rowdy Michigan Marching Band members to play for us.
When he and the band concluded their performance, he turned our attention to the back of the stage. There, in the corner, sat a diminutive, elderly woman with her gray hair pulled back into a small bun. She wore silver-rimmed spectacles and a Block M sweater nearly long enough to reach to her knees when she stood. Cavender announced, “This is Dr. Hazel Losh, professor emeritus of astronomy, to tell you about the great Michigan spirit.”
“Doc” Losh, as she was affectionately known, shuffled slowly across the stage to the lectern behind which a footstool had been placed so we could see her when she spoke. We freshmen-to-be knew nothing about this tiny lady as she crossed the stage. We did not know that she had taught over 50,000 U-M students during her career, including some of the nation’s most prominent astronomers. We did not know that the student body loved her so much they had proclaimed her Homecoming Queen for Life in 1966. We could never have anticipated what happened next.
When she reached the podium, Doc Losh mounted the footstool, placed some notecards in front of her, adjusted her glasses, and peered out into the crowd. Just as she prepared to speak, she was interrupted by a raucous chant from the band. They yelled, “Roll ’em up! Roll ’em up!”—implying that her words might soil the cuffs of a gentleman’s trousers. Doc Losh dutifully dismounted the footstool and rolled down her hose to her ankles to the cheers of the band.
Doc Losh drew a similarly boisterous cheer from the band when she barked her first words—“Go Blue!”—in a surprisingly strong voice. She explained numerous U-M traditions and regaled us with tales of glory about Michigan’s accomplishments in the classroom and in athletics. Doc’s speech mesmerized us, and we left the auditorium with her stories of Michigan indelibly imprinted in our memories.
During the next few years, when she was supposedly retired, Doc Losh became an ambassador for the University. She spoke to hundreds of groups of students, alumni, media, and others about her beloved Michigan. Her taped monthly radio program, “Astronomy Reports,” was a regular feature on Michigan Public Radio.
I saw Doc on only a few occasions during my undergraduate years. She delivered an inspirational speech from the torch-lit steps of the graduate library at a large pep rally held two days before the 1968 Ohio State football game. The next year, she spoke from the front porch of the Sigma Chi fraternity at a much smaller pep rally held two days before Michigan’s stunning upset over the Buckeyes. And, just before every home football game, an undergraduate M Club member escorted Doc across the Michigan Stadium field.
During the half century she was at Michigan, Doc Losh embodied the Michigan spirit about which she so often and lovingly spoke.
A few days before the first football game in 1973, I received a telephone call while studying in my room in the Law Quadrangle. A former track teammate and officer of the M Club knew I cared a lot about Michigan traditions and asked if l would consider taking an elderly former professor to the home football games. I asked incredulously, “Are you talking about Doc Losh?”
For the next two seasons, I picked up Doc Losh at her home on East University Avenue about two hours before kickoff. We parked in a reserved space just outside Michigan Stadium and walked down the dark tunnel to the eastern sideline of the field. Then Doc would sit in a folding chair and talk with well-wishers from the Athletic Department and the Marching Band. When the M Club banner was brought out, Doc and I would walk arm-in-arm out to the middle of the field and watch the team run out of the tunnel and under the banner. Then, we would slowly navigate through the team standing on the western sideline and walk up the section 23 aisle to her seat.
Doc sat with members of the Athletic Department and visiting dignitaries, like the governor and his wife for the Michigan State game. After the game, Doc and I walked up the aisle to the section exit and around the southern end of the stadium to the stairs on the eastern side. As we walked, she was always greeted by many fans and former students. She remembered an astonishing number of her former students and had a pleasant word or a remembrance to share.
Whether the day was beastly hot, freezing cold, or drenching wet, Doc never missed a game during those two years. Although the walking was very hard for her, and climbing the stadium steps even worse, she never once complained. Doc turned down a standing offer from the Athletic Department to sit in the press box because, as she told me more than once, the people up there “just don’t watch the game.” By the time I walked her up the front steps of her home after each game, Doc was exhausted. But she always said that, if Michigan had won, it had been a great game.
During the half century she was at Michigan, Doc Losh embodied the Michigan spirit about which she so often and lovingly spoke. A few weeks before she died, confined to a wheelchair, Doc attended her last Michigan football game. The beloved professor, whom U-M President Robben W. Fleming called “an institution within an institution,” passed away on Oct. 5, 1978. An overflow crowd attended her funeral service at the First United Methodist Church on State Street. Although hundreds attending the service bid farewell to Doc that day, her contributions to the Michigan spirit live on—on campus, in the stadium, and in our hearts.
Jeff Bracken, ’72, JD’75, and his wife Kathy, ’78, of East Lansing, Michigan, along with their sons, Matt, ’05, Andrew, ’08, MPP’13, and Chris, ’12, MSE’13, are a true blue U-M family.