By Helania Hefner
On any given day Thomas Dugan wakes up and starts his day at his home in Detroit, Michigan, with his wife. At 60 years old he enjoys the simple things in life like deer wandering into his backyard and taking time to talk to students over the phone as he sips on his morning coffee. While Dugan’s days now consist of Bible study groups and grading papers, that wasn’t always the case.
Throughout his life, he has worn many hats that have shaped him into the man he has become today, kind and eager to teach kids the ways of the world. His life is a reminder to all that through the bad, good will prevail.
Where Dugan is today, is a reflection of his life choices and the path that he would describe as God’s plan. Teaching OU online courses in criminal justice and business ethics is not where many would have thought Dugan would end up.
Born in raised in Brooklyn, New York, one might think he comes across as loud and abrupt, the “fogetaboutit” attitude, but his journey through life has softened him.
Dugan served 21 years in the Air Force when he retired as a major at 38 with a slew of awards and a new name, Max. The nickname seemed to stick after a friend joked that he looked like the actor Jason Robards who starred in Max Dugan Returns.
“The name just happened to stick,” said Dugan. “Most people don’t even know my real name is Thomas.”
While he enjoyed his time flying, he couldn’t sit still for long. “I retired one day and joined the police academy the next,” said Dugan. With an adventure for life and an eagerness to be on the streets helping others, being a cop seemed like a good fit for Dugan. On November 3, 1999, that belief would change.
“The 20 year anniversary is coming up,” exclaimed Dugan as if talking about an achievement. But in reality, Nov. 3, will mark 20 years since Dugan was shot in the left hand while on duty as a police officer in Tulsa, Okla.
Even though the wound has healed, the emotional scars never will. The memory of the night is etched in his mind forever leaving pangs of survivor’s guilt.
“Everything became slow motion,” said Dugan. “I dove to my left into a brick wall and the bullet went through my left hand.” Today, Dugan suffers from nerve damage unable to feel hot and cold sensations, however, he knows things could have been much worse.
At just 40 Dugan had gained a new perspective on life, a perspective that led him to ask life’s hard questions.
“Survivors guilt is a very real thing,” said Dugan. “I would sit and ask myself why did I live when other officers die.”
After the shooting Dugan found that his role in life had been altered.
With his excitement for travel and adventure, it’s no surprise that Dugan decided to bicycle across the country from Oregon to New Hampshire. But that wasn’t the only adventure in store for Dugan. While he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, he found a wife.
“Max took me by surprise really,” said Mrs. Dugan. “But biking some three thousand miles with someone gives you the chance to get to know them on a very personal level.”
Mrs. Dugan said that Max amazes her everyday with his zest for life and his ability to turn any situation into something positive.
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
Where one chapter ended another began for Dugan so he took his talents and landed in Norman, Oklahoma. He has been teaching at OU for 12 years and has no plans on stopping anytime soon. While teaching is his new passion, he started at OU as a flying instructor, something he has always loved.
After the shooting, Dugan found God again, admitting that he hadn’t always been the best Christian. Today, Dugan is an active Christian filling his week with community Bible studies among other events.
While life has led him from a police officer to professor, Dugan feels that there are important similarities between both professions. He expressed that it’s all about the connections you make. A quote that he often turned to as both teacher and an officer is, “there but for the Grace of God.”
Even though his days aren’t spent chasing down criminals and helping citizens on the streets, he does his best to leave an impact on his students. Being an online teacher, he asks that his students call him over the phone in order to better make a connection with them.
Known for his creative and passionate teaching, students seem to love Dugan even though they never get the chance to meet him. A previous student of Dugan’s expressed her appreciation for his teaching style and passion for helping students.
“He really does care,” said Van Pelt. “Most of the time you never even know the name of your online professor but Max made an effort to make connections with all of the students.”
Being a police officers and being a professor might be wildly different professions but Dugan insists that at the root of it, they aren’t all that different. They both strive to help others, whether it be students or citizens on the street, Dugan says that it’s all about making small changes that can impact others to do great things.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
With no plans to retire soon Dugan has set his sights on traveling with his wife and continuing to teach students. He plans to travel to New Zealand and Australia and hopes to continue to learn more about the world and grow in his faith.
A theme in Dugans life is service. A theme that has taken countless years for him to understand but when you are given a second chance at life Dugan says there isn’t much else he wanted to do but serve the people around him.
While the struggles of PTSD will never fully go away, Dugan has learned to appreciate every aspect of life knowing that each day is precious, each day is a gift and each day is a chance to positively inspire someone else.