To many, he’s James Marchand, popular professor emeritus of Germanic languages and literatures.
To Google project manager Carey Radebaugh (’01), he’s “The Old Man,” who shot a mean stick and spun stories like you’ve never heard, from the Illini Union pool hall.
We’ll let Radebaugh pick it up from here.
“I spent many a day — and class — at the pool hall in the Union when it was still just a pool hall. It was like a second home to many of us, with Mary at the counter — a fierce player in her own day — keeping us young folks in check. The pool hall was a welcome break from the heat, the cold and just about anything else that bothered you. There was bad Boyd, big Boyd, and many other characters, but the one we all came to see, watch and listen to was ‘The Old Man.’
“The Old Man was in fact Professor James Marchand, and he captivated all of us. He taught us how to play three-cushion billiards, spun tales that had enough truth in them to keep us on the edge of our seat and warned of the dangers of playing against ‘sinister’ or (as in left-handed) pool players.
“We formed a local league team and named ourselves The Old Man’s Illegitimates, made it to Vegas for the league nationals, with the Old Man inspiring us along the way, even if he would have surely disapproved of the game of choice for that league: 9-ball.
“I learned how to play one-pocket and banks in the Union, games that I still love with all my heart 20 years later. I was exposed to a level of billiards that I have not been that close to since, watching a master at work, every day, Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., like clockwork.
“It was magic, quiet magic, that hid in plain sight. I’ll never forget the jukebox, dropping quarters in there to play Ray Charles’ ‘Georgia on My Mind’ on a slow day, practicing cross-sides and straight-backs, hands blue from chalk, listening to the Old Man talk of Charlie Peterson and other greats.
“I miss those days. I miss that Old Man. I miss that pool hall in Urbana.”