A Beautiful Life

Three months to a year to live. That’s the projection a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center gave St. John’s Marketing Professor John W. Dobbins in February of 2007. But all Dr. Dobbins cares to think about now is how to continue teaching at St. John’s as best he can.

“The thought of not coming to St. John’s never entered my head,” said Dobbins. “This is my family. If you wanted me to identify my best friends and family, outside my immediate family, this is it right here. I couldn’t be in a more loving environment than at St. Johns. No way.”

Deans, professors and secretaries – the same people he calls his St. John’s family – all mill around outside. His office has photos of his actual family atop his desk. He takes pride in his family and recognizes his father for inspiring him to work at the University.

“My father used to say to me, and he meant it from the bottom of his heart, ‘Not everyone is lucky enough to have gone to St. John’s University.’ And it wasn’t until I came to St. John’s that I realized he was right. In fact, I love the place.”

Dobbins makes it clear that he wants to spend as much time as he’s able teaching at St. John’s. He comes alive in demeanor when he speaks about his beloved students. “I come into my office,” he said, “and I just want to fall asleep. I go into the classroom and then when I come out, I feel like someone just gave me a shot of adrenaline. I just enjoy it. If I wasn’t getting paid to do it, I’d do it.”

Dobbins’ affection for his students isn’t a one-way street, though. Students in his marketing classes have endless words of praise for their courageous professor.
“He’s positively influenced me more than any professor,” said Eddie Henry, a graduate student. It’s this influence that has inspired Henry to create a charity event to be put on at St. John’s in honor of Dobbins. The John W. Dobbins Charity Event will raise money to be donated to Dobbins’ favorite charitable organization, in his name. It will be held in November in Carnesecca Arena.

It’s hoped that on top of Dobbins’ touching story, former Knicks player John Starks and the Knicks City Dancers will also make an appearance to draw in the crowd. At the charity event, hundreds of Knicks tickets will be raffled off and those in attendance will have a chance to win a game of ‘Horse’ with Starks. There will be performances from the dancers throughout the night and interactive student activities, as well.

Dobbins says he is a big fan of basketball and has memories from playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a child. “We grew up in the same neighborhood. We were on the same little league team together,” said Dobbins. “I literally stuffed him three times on the basketball court. But we were only 10 at the time.”

Dobbins has accomplished a lot in his lifetime and that is illustrated through his words. His age shows nowadays, yet it is rather becoming on him. His hair is a silver grey that reflects not age, but wisdom.

He’s filled with insights stemming from his experiences with his family, international endeavors and his devotion to his faith. “God has blessed me with a lot of different talents,” he said. “And I firmly believe that these talents can be used for good or misused. And I like to think that, for most of my life, I used them for good.”

The truth in that statement is reflected through the numerous outstanding teaching awards Dobbins has been presented with, including the St. John’s University Faculty Outstanding Achievement Award and, most recently, the Professor of the Year award in 2006 for the Tobin College of Business.
He has been involved with the Governments of Lithuania, Egypt, Ghana, and China as an international trade and marketing consultant and lectured internationally in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Perhaps most flattering, Dobbins was selected by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, the world’s fifth wealthiest man, to teach his son international marketing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Despite his major accomplishments, his fellow faculty still insists he is a mellow guy. Judith Cramer, a media professor, said, “He’s not the type that wants to be in the spotlight.”

He constantly tries to downplay his accomplishments and strength in order to shine light on average people in their own endeavors whom he finds to be inspirational. Dobbins insists that his status at St. Johns doesn’t make him the best role model for others.

His personal mantra is that the key to success is caring about people and being likeable. “I don’t weigh a person’s worth by how much status they have,” said Dobbins. “I look inside that person and see the goodness. That’s how I judge them- by their deeds and how they treat other people.”

Dobbins doesn’t display the self-restraint or reserve you’d expect from the chair of a department or a professor or simply a grown man in his 60’s. He is honest and touching. When speaking about his health, he said, “I could live five or ten years. Anything is possible. I don’t assume anything. I take one day at a time. I get up, I go to work, I continue on. I keep making plans for next semester; I plan on teaching summer school. I plan to be here. If I’m not, I’m not.”

He is an inspiration among his faculty, as well. His friend of over 40 years, and fellow faculty member, Thom McCarthy, admires his buddy’s resiliency.

“Teaching takes a lot of energy,” said McCarthy. “And to teach well and not feel well is amazing.”

The ache his loved ones may feel should be relieved somewhat in knowing that Dobbins takes the most from his situation. “I’m here in a loving environment where people that I care about, care about me,” said Dobbins, “Who would want to change that? I couldn’t ask for a more supportive place than St. Johns. The thing that breathes life back into me is the people that I deal with who impact my life, and when I impact theirs.”