At the first men’s devotions of the semester, Dean Puckett introduced Harold Bledsoe, the new men’s dean. Dashing Harold Bledsoe—bouncing on his heels, full of energy, he seemed to refract an alien light. Shawn McIntosh stared at him. He didn’t look very dean-like—seemed like a circle among rectangles.
After Bledsoe got settled in his tenth-floor office, Dean Puckett gave him campus block patrol. Torrey Bible Institute couples would walk the city block that circled TBI—traversing the cracked and broken sidewalk along the chain-link-fenced parking lot, then turning back toward the women’s dorm. The rule was—keep walking. The deans warned students not to linger in the recessed doorways of Moody-Sankey Auditorium.
Bledsoe also flushed people out of Moody-Sankey’s balcony, one of the best hiding places at TBI. At random times he would burst in, shine his big flashlight and surprise couples in the act. He wouldn’t usually take down names, only kick them out the door with a warning. Shawn fantasized about the balcony; he had no girlfriend, but the prohibitions made the dark balcony attractive.
Bledsoe’s portfolio was dean of men, but several times Shawn had seen him chatting up the women students. They loved his California stories, loved his black convertible. On the nights that the deans spread out to sit at student tables in the dining hall, Bledsoe would often end up at the same table as Sally Wilberforce. His casual style, so different from the other deans, riveted her attention.
The next week, Shawn walked over to Moody-Sankey Auditorium and initialed his name on the sign-in sheet for mandatory chapel. Often, President Clearson spoke, or a visiting Bible teacher. But today it was Harold Bledsoe.
Shawn saw Sally signing in alongside another girl he didn’t know. They walked in another door, but Shawn saw where she sat—beatific, attentive, her big blue eyes focused on the podium. Serious, thirsty.
President Clearson introduced the new dean. He told the students that Bledsoe was born in Boston, then attended Stanford University where he did a B.A. in counseling with a coaching minor. He’d come to faith, Clearson explained, when teaching at Cuyahoga High School, Cleveland. Wearing a sports coat and light brown slacks, Bledsoe gave a touching testimony of his dissolute life at Stanford, his days in Cleveland, and his powerful conversion, then ended his talk with a call for commitment.
After the service Sally and her friend turned to walk out. Shawn saw how Bledsoe’s sermons touched people—Sally was blowing her nose and dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief. Shawn overheard her and her friends enthusing over him.
Two weeks into the semester, Dean Harold Bledsoe elevatored up to his Cromwell Hall office, rocked back in his desk chair, inhaling the smell of waxed oaken woodwork and feeling joyful. When he glanced in the mirror, he noticed his gold watch and dark brown pants and saw an eligible bachelor in his thirties, a bronzed god over six feet tall with a Roman nose, wavy dark hair and ears that clung to the sides of his head.
He quickly grew popular with the students but the deans did not always appreciate him, especially Dean Darla Dickenson. An office partition separated her from Bledsoe, but she thought he took up too much space—she could smell his cologne. She found Harold Bledsoe both repulsive and fascinating. In spite of herself, Dickenson secretly envied his self-confidence, his relaxed, joking manner, and especially, his Greek-god physique. But these very qualities fueled her dislike for him, he, with his black convertible and casual attitude. The mean little part of her brain grew jealous of the attention he paid to the TBI girls. She’d heard his conversion story and knew he wasn’t reared in a Fundamentalist church.
Bledsoe smiled a lot. Why does Bledsoe smile? she wondered. At TBI, smiling was mandatory—it was thought to radiate a “good testimony” to the world. Some people smile out of habit, Dickenson thought, some out of obligation, some because they see the ironies of life and some because they’re truly happy. Hard to tell with Harold Bledsoe.
Dickenson walked over to Dean Puckett’s office and whispered, “I don’t think Bledsoe is very TBI-esque. He’s too friendly with the girls. When he drives around the block, he shines his spotlight up at Hargreaves Hall and the girls open their windows and wave. I’m afraid he’s not a good role model for the boys, either. TBI forms serious, mission-driven men and women, not clowns.”
Puckett said nothing.
But Dickenson’s fears had some basis. Harold Bledsoe brought with him a tangled background and many guarded secrets.