Imagine between the early 1920s and 1960s, knowing two professors in college with such differing personalities--who you would have never thought would be in a relationship--and finding out that they got married after retiring 40 years later. The love story of late professors Pedro Paz and Avis Thomas continues to be a shock to this day.
Professor Mike Fales said that Paz and Thomas both started working at Olivet College in the early 1920s when the school reopened after World War I. He said they were “very highly regarded” people who worked in the Margaret Upton Conservatory of Music (Music Conservatory), which was a separate school from the college during that time. Fales said Paz, an Ecuadorian native, lived in Blair Hall, and was the “head” of the orchestra.
“They said he was very strict, that he believed that you had to rehearse for two hours---five days a week . . . that’s part of why the orchestra was as good as it was . . . .” Fales said.
Fales said Thomas lived in an apartment on Shipherd Street, and was the “head” of the Music Conservatory. “That was pretty progressive back in those days to have a woman in charge of that program . . . . There was a time in the early 1930s when they couldn’t find a President for the college so the college was run by a committee of faculty, and she was one of those faculty members . . . .”
Charles Blackman, who was a freshman in 1942, said over the phone that Paz was his professor in the orchestra. He said he made an “effort” to play the base violin. “I’m afraid I didn’t follow through appropriately so we (he and Paz) mutually decided that (the base violin) wasn’t going to go anywhere.” Even though Blackman did not have any interaction with Thomas, he said she and Paz were still “well known” instructors regardless if a student had them or not.
Blackman also said he saw them as “refined” people, even though there were “speculations” from other students about them being together. “Their marriage was a surprise . . . I don’t remember any interactions between them . . . I just hadn’t seen them as a couple . . . I mean obviously they knew one another very well . . . I don’t have a clue about what motivated them to get together . . . but as I got to thinking about it . . . they are two people that worked together over 30 or 40 years . . . I guess they decided something should happen.”
Fales said they might have been afraid to get married while working together, which was why they waited until they retired in 1962. “Back in those days . . . most people thought it was inappropriate for a husband and wife to both work at the same place.”
In Mildred Lignian’s book Folks and Oaks of Olivet, she said Thomas “had a special ability to cope with temperamental musicians”, a “gentle sense of humor”, and met any situation with “good judgment”. She said Paz was an “inspired and inspiring teacher and director”, “courteous to all”, “spoke with an accent”, “used expressive gestures”, was seen as a “bachelor”, and greeted any woman “as though she were a queen”.
“There was probably no unmarried female member of the faculty or the student body who would not have been delighted to receive his attentions,” said Lignian.
Fales said after Paz married Thomas, “A lot of women were disappointed because I think they all had hoped maybe they would be his girlfriend.” He said that Paz having a “temper” and being “demanding as a conductor”, and Thomas being a “very calming kind of person” helped them to complement one another and have a “good marriage.”
Lignian said that following their marriage, they went to Ann Arbor to live close to the musical activities of the university, and “The unhappiness of their friends when they left Olivet was alleviated to a degree by the general approval of the marriage of these two dedicated musicians."