Hopkins is losing a talented listener

Mentor: Decades of failing, depressed and overwrought students took their problems to academic adviser Martha Roseman, the problem-solver. In retirement, she will be neither gone nor forgotten.

June 15, 2000|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

The relationship began 15 years ago, near the end of his first semester.

She said of him: "He was a fun-loving kid who liked to play lacrosse and knew he had to get through school."

He said of her: "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she would have the impact she had on my life."

Dave Pietramala was a Johns Hopkins University freshman and Martha Roseman was an academic adviser. She was bound to become dean of her department and he was destined to be a stand-out defenseman, an All-American, a National Player of the Year.

But he wasn't going to get there on academic probation, which is where he was heading when he met her.

Their relationship grew, gradually, over visits each semester, until he learned to trust and take her advice and go to class when her secretary called to wake him.

He would not forget her, not after he graduated in 1990 or after he became the school's assistant lacrosse coach in 1994. He invited her to his wedding, and the only time their lives drifted apart was when he took a head coach's job at Cornell University in 1997.

Even then, he told her someday he would be back.

In the meantime, other students came in his place.

They came to her because they were failing, because they were distracted, depressed, overwhelmed and under pressure.

They came to see her in Homewood House and Mergenthaler Hall and to her current office in Merryman Hall. They came and sat where he had sat, on the couch in what she calls "the living room," or at the table, what she calls her "dining room."

They sat within reach of a box of tissues and they sat under bookshelves lined with token gifts from other students and they sat beside photographs of her three children; her grandchildren; and her, at her junior prom, because she needed to remind some of them that she was young once.

And there on the bookshelf sat a photo of her with him.

The other students came for reasons he came. Because she had a reputation, not just on the lacrosse team but among all students, of finding a way out without breaking the rules.

She was a fortune teller, able to see things others could not.

She sat there, as still as an owl, with her big, round glasses on her lap, and she listened.

Such a listener, her mother said. Growing up in Brooklyn - when Brooklyn had the Dodgers - neighbors came to her, just to talk.

But when the time came to make career choices, she dreamed the cautious dreams of the first college graduate in a tailor's family.

She studied business, to have business to fall back on, but she followed her heart and studied psychology and sociology, too.

At the University of Michigan, many years after discovering she was happiest working closely with kids, her boss came to her.

The problem: How to help inner-city kids in crisis.

Her ideas to build their esteem through classwork worked so well the program spread to schools in New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Soon after that, in 1968, she followed her husband to the Hopkins Homewood campus.

She moved from research to a counselor's job when Hopkins started admitting females, and that's where she was working when she met Dave Pietramala and his father.

Parents came to her, too. They came frustrated, disappointed, at wit's end.

She sat there, most often in a suit, sometimes with pearls, and if the air-conditioning was cool, and she wasn't wearing a jacket, she sat under the wings of a crocheted shawl her mother made.

She listened, and when parents left her, they left with options.

When their sons and daughters left her, when they graduated, they stooped to hug her; she's just 4-foot-11.

They wrote her cards, letters and e-mails after they left, and some sent pictures of their own families.

They knew she had married the boy next door, her only boyfriend, and that her husband, Saul Roseman, was a biochemistry professor across campus.

They knew she had been married 58 years, and they understood what she meant when she told one student the answer to his problems was "a nice Jewish girl."

She stayed at Hopkins 32 years. Then, after she announced this year she was leaving, the fun-loving kid who liked to play lacrosse announced he was coming back.

Pietramala was named head coach of the men's lacrosse program last week, and Martha Roseman said she'll be there if he needs her, because she is coming back too, part-time, to work on a pet project helping students with learning disabilities.

At her retirement party, he read a poem, and the poem surprised and delighted her because he didn't read poetry when they met.

He said: "Success and greatness aren't measured in wins and losses, or A's and B's, they're measured in how many lives you touch."

He said to her: "I want to thank you for touching mine."

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