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Dr. Terry Parssinen: A Personal Mentor

By Michael Connor

In Fall of 2017, as a sophomore, I enrolled in a course entitled “America in the 1960’s”. As much as I was looking forward to the topic because of a personal interest in 20th century American history, I was unaware that I was going to meet one of my influential professors and mentors. The course was taught by Terry Parssinen. 

Parssinen not only had the passion for such a course, but he lived through the era he was discussing every Tuesday and Thursday. In fact, he received his Ph.D from Brandeis University in 1968. With the most sincere respect, Parssinen is The University of Tampa’s honorary grandfather. He takes pride in such an image too. 

Occasionally, he’ll mention that some of his past students have compared him to Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World. While Parssinen understands he has had the privilege to live through some of America’s most historic moments, he is adamant about telling students that they are living through and are a part of history as well.

One of my greatest passions is the 1950s/1960s culture. It was so thrilling for me to learn about the era I loved from a professor that experienced and took part in it. In the beginning of his academic career as an instructor at Grinnell College, his alma mater, Parssinen had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Every day in class, I looked forward to and craved every insight or experience Parssinen would share. 

After teaching twenty years at Temple University and two years at the University of Maryland, Parssinen began his UT journey in 1992. Alongside a professorship in history, he served as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences until 1995. After an accomplished 27 years at UT, Parssinen has no plans on stopping. He is as excited to come to work and share knowledge with students today as he has ever been. It is his energy and passion that really makes Parssinen’s courses so memorable. 

In 2003, HarperCollins published Parssinen’s The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler and Avert World War II. Named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top five books ever to be published about resistance to Hitler, The Oster Conspiracy became a bestseller that brought Parssinen’s work to an international scale. 

As successful of a work the book has been, Parssinen has remained humble about his success. Parssinen’s down-to-earth and warm personality is one of the biggest qualities that makes him stand out among other renowned historians. 

Beyond his research on Nazi Germany and World War II, he is an expert in narcotic history. Author of two academic books on the topic, Webs of Smoke: Smugglers, Warlords, Spies, and the History of the International Drug Trade and Secret Passions and Secret Remedies: Narcotic Drugs and British Society, 1820- 1930, as well as numerous articles such as, “An Historical Fable for our Time: The Illicit Trade in Morphine in the Early Twentieth Century,” Parssinen is an extremely well accomplished “drug” historian. He has brought his wealth of knowledge on narcotic history to UT through his Narcotic Drugs in Modern Society course. 

I find it so inspirational that a man like Parssinen has made history his life’s work and has found a lasting satisfaction in his craft for over 50 years. We can all only hope we can be so fortunate to love what we do for that long of a time and still find a sincere enjoyment in our occupation every morning we wake up. 

A story about Dr. Parssinen would not be complete without honoring Carol Parssinen, Parssinen’s wife and co-teacher in some courses. I was fortunate to take Paris in the 20’s with the Parssinen family last semester. Mrs. Dr. Parssinen, as I like to call her, is not only an incredible professor, but a very accomplished member of the academic community herself. Beyond her own achievements, she has been Parssinen’s biggest supporter. The Parssinens are a team and students who know them know this. They have both encouraged each other’s careers and eventually became not only partners in life, but in academia. 

When Parssinen agreed to allow me to work on a project about him, I felt a great honor and responsibility. My ultimate goal is to do right by him and hopefully pay tribute to a man that has impacted my life in many positive ways. Parssinen was certainly not only encouraging, but one of the reasons why I decided to pursue a path in historical studies. He is, without a doubt, a personal mentor.

This semester marks my third class with Parssinen and my senior year. I hope I can experience one more Parssinen course next semester before I graduate. Whatever the future may hold, it has been a sincere honor to be one of Parssinen’s students in his long, and fruitful career. Thank you for inspiring me to do what I love sir. 

Michael Connor can be reached at Michael.connor@spartans.ut.edu

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