LOGAN Stanford Cazier is talking.
The words spill out in an authoritative, basso profundo voice, tumbling forth in a violent cataract as if they can't come out fast enough, as if there are more words and ideas inside than can possibly be expressed. They are cluttered with asides and fragments and insights and tangents and observations on everything from neutrinos to Civil War history to physical handicaps to the merits of Saul Bellow to the double helix to family relations and everything in between. They seem to flow from an inexhaustible fount, building a verbal edifice that is immediately torn down and replaced with a grander one, weaving and pulsing in an all-inclusive commentary on the mysteries of nature and man's place within it.
A person who knew Cazier when he lived in Madison, Wis., described him this way: "Words, words, words."
Consider the following samples of his speech, contained within only several minutes of talking: "Gell-Mann discovered the quark, but it took Bohr to discover all the electron paths around the nucleus of course, I don't understand all of that beyond the first few orbits." "Is this soup? I think it's the main dish. They need the Jell-O, soup, main dish, apple." "Yes, you can decide to become an intellectual decide to have the easy life." "The purest alcohol, the most purely distilled, is vodka, but not that Smirnoff stuff." "When you're (retired from) the humanities, nobody needs you. Engineers can consult, but what can I do besides teach and write?" "Death, that sort of death rips at you, it's not the kind of death that's justified. Who can justify it? Anyone who says they can is speaking pure nonsense."
This is hardly what you would expect from an erstwhile truck driver and humble deliverer of Meals On Wheels to homebound Cache Valley senior citizens. This is just another blue-collar guy.
Three times a week, 72-year-old Cazier leaves his home on Logan's east bench, picks up meals of soup and Jell-O at Logan's Senior Citizen Center and delivers them around the valley. Proud holder of a commercial driver license, he recently drove a big rig from Provo to Stockton, Calif. He carries guns in his cars. He can swear as fluently as any oil rig worker.
He also happens to be former president of Utah State University and one of the most brilliant thinkers to emerge from Utah academia.
An old Chinese curse says, "May you live in interesting times." Interesting barely begins to describe the course of Cazier's recent life. He stepped down from the USU helm in 1992, retired as a full-time professor five years later, and immediately descended into a nightmare.
"It was the hardest time of my life, and I had gone through hard times," he said.
At an age when most men are easing into their golden years, Cazier plummeted to his nadir. Those closest to him were dead or dying. He abandoned the LDS faith of his boyhood. He began drinking. In a fit of pique he challenged USU's research vice president to a physical confrontation and was thereafter discouraged from even setting foot on the campus of which he had been head.
"He sank into real depths, and a lot of people despaired of him," Alder said. "But, by darn, he pulled himself out. He outlasted it."
By her husband's ready admission, for half a century Shirley Cazier was the mainstay of Stan Cazier's life. Her vast intellectual abilities, coupled with a childlike faith, kept him faithful in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and kept him going in his career. But in his last years at USU she developed Parkinson's disease, coupled with dementia. She began slipping away, mentally and physically, and he simultaneously began slipping away from the social and spiritual life he had known all his life.
"She was my anchor in that world," Cazier said. "Without her, I was free to allow my doubts back."
With Shirley slipping away, Stan Cazier's son, Paul, developed glial blastoma inoperable, 100 percent fatal brain cancer in November 1998. Of Cazier's three sons, Paul was the one who had been expected to carry the family banner.
The first son, David, is a diagnosed schizophrenic (he's currently living in a Logan group home). The second, John, is extremely bright but suffers from emotional problems. Paul was a successful neuro-radiologist with a wife, three children and a bright future, but he was dying, and there was nothing his father could do about it.
"If I could have, I would have traded places with Paul with all four feet," he said. "Shirley was at an age where it's pretty much expected, but Paul's death was very hard."
Fate had more tragedy in store. A week after Paul had diagnosed himself with cancer, Cazier's beloved sister, Geri Callister, who was on her way to Logan to help him care for Shirley, was killed in a car crash.
President James Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, spoke at Callister's funeral. Afterward, he offered his condolences to Cazier. Cazier's response: He planned to head to the nearest liquor store.
Within a year, Paul and Shirley were dead. His world crumbling around him, Cazier spiraled into a morass of grief and self-recrimination. Perhaps the lowest point came when USU's research vice president, Peter Gerity, told a newspaper that Cazier had left the university with $3 million in debt from grants and contracts. Cazier called him and hotly complained that was false. The conversation escalated, and finally Cazier challenged Gerity to meet him outside on the quad the main open area of USU where he would "help him get a clearer focus on the truth."
Cazier never intended to make good his threat, but Gerity nonetheless called campus police. The incident made the papers. Cazier, as professor emeritus, had been planning to teach a course on military history, but the dean told him he'd better stay off campus.
People change when they pass through the fire. Some are consumed. Others reel and suffer but survive. While the outcome was in doubt for a while, Cazier has proven to be the latter.
After two years of misery, Cazier began a gradual recovery. He continued his habit of reading everything he could get his hands on. He became friends with an energetic, vivacious woman, Kay Rawson, who accepted him without conditions. He began reaching out to others in his words, "put my actions where my mouth was" by serving Meals on Wheels, reading to a nursing home resident, helping international students learn to write English.
It's all a far cry from the years of academic glory, when he was feted and lauded and invited to run for everything from senator to governor. But consider:
"Being a member of the intelligentsia isn't overwhelmingly satisfying," Alder said. "It leads sometimes to pride and isolation. So here he (Cazier) is, doing these menial things, but things that are really important to people."
Perhaps it took passing through the fire for Cazier to enjoy something so simple. He takes the meal trays, counts out the contents, puts them in the insulated container, delivers the meals. He checks on the people he delivers to "Are you OK? Do you need anything?" He engages them in unique Cazier-style conversation.
In a past life, undergraduates were routinely intimidated into speechlessness merely by Cazier entering the room ("I felt like I needed to stand at attention and salute," said Ted Olson, who worked part time in an office next to the president's). But not so his current acquaintances.
"This man surprises me," said one woman, accepting her meal. "I thought he would be a high-falutin', rootin'-tootin', son-of-a-gun university president. But he's not."
In fact, Cazier makes light of the powerful persona so many students remember.
"Much of what I said was pure bull," he writes in an unpublished autobiography, "Confessions of a Troubled Soul." "In fact, B.S. has served me very well through much of my life."
While he continually refers to his boyhood religion and energetically discusses its tenets, Cazier has not returned to the fold. Rawson, an active LDS church member herself, forbears from judging him. We all pass through our own Gesthemanes.
"Stan walks his own path," she said.
E-MAIL: [email protected]