It’s Really Time to Diddy-Bop: Paul Stephens Retires after 52 Years

A Letter from Denise Watson

Dear Paul,

While I was likely watching That Girl, Bewitched, and Jeopardy with my mother in Corpus Christi, Texas, you were beginning your work at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. It was July 7, 1969. I followed 35 years later. 

As I was about to begin working as the Eden Park Office Administrator in 2004, Nancy Glier said “You are going to love Paul.” How right she was. I met a veteran of the United States Navy, who ran and oversaw massive ship engine control rooms – places I didn’t even know existed before you explained to me in detail all the steering gears, calibrators, air pressure valves, water cooling pumps, cylinders, gaskets, reverse start switches, and stringent checks and balances necessary to power a ship. In describing all those precision-dependent operations, you never mentioned the one key factor that made your ship engine control rooms work like clockwork – a meticulous, methodical, and mathematical mind that makes the difference between sinking and sailing.

Your descriptions helped me hear and see those levers, controls, machines, and valves, and I helped you imagine them all being painted various shades of pink and lilac. I found your funny bone and your ticklish spot, and I found in you someone whose trust and integrity are iron-clad. Period. Our talks have shaped much of my experience of the Art Academy. The halls and walls will not be the same without your voice, your laugh, and your eyes, which have seen everything – including Shonny, a tiny doll you suddenly found resting on your shoulder when I introduced you two.

Your dreams, stories, warnings, advice, poker-face jokes, and quiet observations will be with me for a long time. I will miss our conversations about your fascination with the history of Egypt and your desire to understand as much as possible about falling pins, tumblers, bolts, codes, and fake key holes after learning about Egypt’s highly complex wooden locks. Your enthusiasm ignited your passion and led to your becoming a locksmith and inventing some of your own locks – especially headlocks you’ve had to administer to thugs worthy of such treatment.

That aggressive jeepney driver who intentionally drove you off route into harm’s way in the Philippines learned a life lesson as he watched you pound the faces off of four fools who thought they were going to kill an American sailor traveling solo. What did he expect? You had to fight for your life, and I am so glad you did.

Thank you, Paul, for giving me a view into your dreams and your fears and for entrusting me with your gentle tears along the way. You are one of the most sweet-tempered people I know, and I will miss you.

When we celebrated your 50th Anniversary in 2019 – at that time one third of the history of the Art Academy – several AAC people thought it was your retirement party. Thank you for giving us two more years. Over these last 52 years, students, alumni, staff, and faculty have cherished you, and now it is hard to say goodbye. It doesn’t seem real. We all wish you the very best.