Embracing Life

Posted on April 7, 2010

If you are looking for inspiration, look no further than Dr. Tony Alley, Associate Professor of Art & Design and Mass Communication at Oklahoma Christian University.  Known for his positive attitude and for making students feel important, the close knit “university family,” is rallying around the professor who has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

In the fall of 2006, Dr. Alley began having debilitating headaches—an anomaly for him.  After an MRI, he underwent extensive surgery to remove the tumors but the news was not good.  

“The diagnosis was especially devastating,” said Alley, though he wasn’t present to hear it.  The neurosurgeon walked into the waiting room, filled with family and friends from his church and Oklahoma Christian, and announced, “This is the worst type of brain tumor you can have.  It is very aggressive, malignant—it’s deadly.”  He was told that he would be lucky to survive a year.  

But in spite of the prognosis, the professor determined to live life to the fullest and continue to teach his classes at OC, even with the devastating effects of both the disease and the treatment.  

He embraced Psalm 125:2 from the Bible which says, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forevermore.”  The walls of Alley’s office are covered with students’ paintings of mountains, in reference to the verse and in support of their mentor.

“I know God is going to take care of me,” said Dr. Alley.  “Whether I live or die, no matter how bad things get, God is going to take care of me.”

It is this attitude that has fired up the students on campus, many nominating him for the Oklahoma Christian Second Mile Award.  But it wasn’t the cancer diagnosis that brought about his “good guy attitude.” Alley happens to be one of those instructors that students have always proclaimed as a “good guy.”  

“Dr. Alley is one of the most supportive teachers I’ve ever had,” said Jacob Berken, senior Art major.  “I don’t know of any other professor who makes as many personal sacrifices for the students.”

Another student reported that Dr. Alley offered students a place to go for Thanksgiving if they had no family.

Lisa Carroll, who has worked at OC for eleven years, says Dr. Alley has always been a giving and caring man. “His first comment upon walking into the office each day is, ‘What can I do to help you today?’”  

A retired Air Force tactical reconnaissance pilot, Alley’s life has always been about helping others.  He is the author of several Air Force pilot training textbooks along with his most recent book, Exploring 3D Modeling with Cinema 4D R9.

“I wanted to write a book that really helped students come to grips with the fundamentals of 3D modeling,” said Alley, an animation expert.

It is this type of love and respect for his students that caused Alley to meet with Tamie Willis, Library Director of OC, last spring.  With her help, he arranged to donate his personal books in computer graphics and new media—about sixty volumes—to the library as a special collection to promote scholarship and research of Oklahoma Christian students in this field.

But Willis had more in mind. “I wanted to see the collection grow and develop in honor of Dr. Alley,” she said.  

She and Alley met and established a “wish list” of books, ranging from cartoons to graphic design to 3D animation through Amazon.com., allowing anyone to go online and order a book to become part of the Tony Alley Computer Design and New Media Collection in Oklahoma Christian’s Beam Library.  

“Not everyone has thousands of dollars to donate,” said Willis, “but almost everyone is able to donate a book to benefit our students.”

Most people think of Dr. Tony Alley as courageous, seeing him struggle with the debilitating side effects of the brain tumor—going to classes in a motorized wheelchair because the brain can no longer controls his muscles, or having yet another surgery.  But Alley sees things differently.

“For me, it’s not about courage.  It’s about faith,” said Alley.  “When the doctor says, ‘We’re going to do our best to keep you going as long as we can, but you have to understand that you’re going to lose this body,’ you have no choice but to turn it over to God.”

Alley has always been a man of faith.  Even before and during the diagnosis he remained focused on the Lord.

“The night before my surgery, I prayed for two things,” said Alley, “First, I asked that God would be glorified through this.  Whether I lived or died, I wanted God to receive the glory.”  He paused, his voice breaking with emotion.  “So, survive or not survive; painful, not painful; ugly, not ugly; as long as God is glorified, I’m going to be happy with that.”

His second request was for his family.  “I prayed that my family would be taken care of,” he said, fighting back tears and barely able to speak.  “That’s really a scary thing.”

Alley’s family includes Priscilla, his wife of thirty years, along with his daughter, Elise and son, Ryan and wife, Kelli.  Alley’s desire is to leave his family a legacy of faith.

“There is a saying that goes, ‘The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long,’” said Alley.  “So the fact that I’m going to go early…no problem.  I have burned bright!”

To view Dr. Alley’s “wish list” of books, visit www.oc.edu/tonysbooks or contact Tamie Willis at 405-425-5320 or e-mail her at tamie.willis@oc.edu.

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