This originally appeared in the Haslam Scholars Program Spring Newsletter. To download the entire newsletter, please click here.
By Brittany Vasquez, HSP alumna
When I first met Dr. Tina Riedinger, I was getting on her lake boat with hopes that the day would turn into a moment to remember. I had been invited, along with a previous Haslam Scholars class, by her husband, Dr. Lee Riedinger, to attend a lake day. It was a moment to catch up with one of our favorite professors, eat some wonderful food, and hopefully all learn to water ski—or, at the very least, enjoy a day of boating and tubing. I can remember Dr. Lee assuring us that he was the best water ski instructor on the lake, and Dr. Tina emphatically agreed. I held tight to my doubts until my third run of the day. I was standing on skis, looking ahead of me as Dr. Lee gave me the thumbs-up and, on the shore, Dr. Tina waved and smiled back at me.
In telling this story, I realized that the most distinct memory I hold of Tina is of the first time I met her. I can vividly remember her generosity and enthusiasm for the day, for the ability to share one of her and her husband’s passions with eager students. She related stories of her and Lee’s time studying abroad and their experience through Semester at Sea. Weaving beautiful details of the wonders their eyes had witnessed, her excitement for life bubbled through her veins and flowed from her heart. The experience was more than just her and Lee’s trip around the world on a boat for a semester, and her words expressed that. They had been lucky enough to be able to teach students throughout the trip, and this remained the most important aspect of the entire experience.
Reminiscing on this day remains emotional. When I heard of Tina’s illness, I was perusing Facebook and noticed the influx of comments on Lee’s wall. Being in medical school, I could see in the multitudes of photos that Tina’s health was declining without ever having to read a word written by the hundreds of friends. To this day, my Facebook feed remains populated with hopes, wishes, condolences, and memories for, of, and about Tina.
My fondness for the Riedingers may invariably be tied to my ability
to water ski and my fondness for the water, but I like to think that this fondness runs deeper. It is a comment on the type of people that they both are. Tina was a generous individual who shared her husband with the UT family for multiple years. She was a teacher whose smile glistened and glimmered in the sun when I related to her my newest acquired skill of water skiing, an educated woman who knew the value of hard work, accomplishment, and a bit of luck as expressed in her memories of her Semester at Sea. I could not in a simple sentence sum up my own appreciation and admiration for Tina, and an inundation of electronics cannot accomplish this either. However, I can say that any time I stand on water skis and see the beautiful world speed past, I will fondly remember my time with Tina and Lee and all the lifelong lessons they have taught me as true educators of this vast, wondrous world.