HOTSEAT- Aprés Turner: Apprey takes quiet command

Maurice Apprey still remembers the exact words that UVA VP Pat Lampkin used to get him to take over as interim dean of the Office of African-American Affairs: "They're hurting, and they need healing."

The pitch was irresistible.

That was last July, after fiery former dean Rick Turner pleaded guilty to lying to federal prosecutors about a drug dealer and abruptly retired from the university.

The soft-spoken Apprey, originally trained as a psychoanalyst, had just finished his second Ph.D.– this one in executive leadership. After 25 years working in administration in the Med School, he was ready to become provost at a small college, but he accepted Lampkin's offer.

Apprey sees his job as mentoring and providing a comfort zone where students can succeed, a skill that comes naturally. Growing up in Saltpoint, Ghana, he witnessed his grandfather counseling people behind closed doors. 

"You can help people without anyone ever knowing," he says. 

Another reason he chose psychoanalysis: "I wanted a profession that had a connection with literary theory, philosophy, symbolic anthropology and other humanities," he explains. "I'm a very interdisciplinary person."

  Apprey has been amazed at the goodwill he's encountered since taking on the Office of African American Affairs. "In the Med School," he explains, "there's no drama attached to what we do; everyone is very matter of fact."

He's giving a state of the African American Affairs address in the Rotunda February 1. But he draws the line at being the university's spokesman on racial matters. 

"I avoid that like the plague," he says. "I want this office to be a climate to thrive. My politics are a private matter. The top priority is academic achievement." 

Age: 59

Why here? When I completed my child psychoanalytic training in 1979, I went to Portugal to present a paper, where a NIH director invited me to work with her when I returned to the US. Unfortunately, my full-time research position had become a half-time position, so I came to teach half-time in the Department of Psychiatry here. After a year, both positions became full-time. I chose to stay here.

What's worst about living here? No direct flights to anywhere I want to go

Favorite hangout? The Kennedy Center in Washington

Most overrated virtue? Behind the tain of the mirror, all virtues have a shadow that potentially conceals something incompatible. As a result, I'm often amused by excessive manifestations of virtue.

People would be surprised to know: I travel around the world attending performances of Wagner's  operas; I suppose you can call me a "ring head."

What would you change about yourself? After years of studying, thinking and writing, it is time to have more balance in my life.

Proudest accomplishment? Some years ago, a patient of mine was on the roof of a London hospital, threatening to jump. In the heat of the moment, I climbed the fire escape ladder to the roof. Within three minutes, she was back in safe hands: a quiet, private satisfaction! Publicly, my proudest achievement is the education of scores of clinicians and pre-med students, and my work with disadvantaged children who have turned their lives around.

People find most annoying about you: I'm working almost all the time when I'm in town and unavailable to hang out with friends.

Whom do you admire? People who do things for others they don't have to do.

Favorite book? Bachelard's The Flame of a Candle– I love it for its poetic meditations. And I'm revisiting Husserl's The Paris Lectures and Cartesian Meditations to write a paper.

Subject that causes you to rant? Any extreme position both amuses and annoys me.

Biggest 21st-century thrill?  My exploration of the underground cities in Cappadocia, Turkey. 

Biggest 21st-century creep out?  Hanging chads in Florida in our very civilized world

What do you drive? Toyota Camry

In your car CD player right now: A selection of classical choral tunes

Next journey? To teach psychoanalysis to trainees in Istanbul on Memorial Day weekend. And metaphorically, to help raise my grandson.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? I deserved to be chided by my late wife for refusing to shake the hand of a politician I did not respect. That name will remain a secret– this is a very small town. Thankfully, that sort of situation has occurred only once in my life.

Regret: The tragic death of my wife in a hit-and-run. However, the meaning of the resurrection sustains me: one can always start afresh. This same precept is embodied in my craft as a psychoanalyst: an instrument for a fresh start in one's own way.

Favorite comfort food: An assortment of white chocolate with liqueurs, almond, or strawberries

Always in your refrigerator: More often than not, fruit drinks and /or a bottle of white wine

Must-see TV: BBC news

Favorite cartoon: None whatsoever

Describe a perfect day. I've facilitated the work of transformation in a four-year old child, mitigated an adolescent's turmoil, helped to reconfigure an adult's personal narrative that is impeding his or her development, and in the case of students, enhanced their academic achievement in one form or another.

Walter Mitty fantasy: A very dull one: teaching Latin, French, or English literature in a very good high school like Exeter or Andover by day and at night teaching under-served youth decision-making skills so they can prosper in life.

Who'd play you in the movie? Laurence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, or Denzel Washington might be able to bring some life into this dull fantasy.

Most embarrassing moment? Going to a class totally unprepared, by my standards, and still getting through– but privately thinking "Whew! I shall never make that mistake again."

Best advice you ever got? As a 16-year-old, I had a tendency to bring all sorts of friends to the house. My concerned mother  admonished me: "A friend is like a bird; it sings one song inside the house and sings another song outside the house. So, son, be careful."

Favorite bumper sticker? "Better be late, Mr. X, than the late Mr. X."

Maurice Apprey