Beloved Professor Filitsa Mullen Leaves a Lasting Legacy in the Hearts of the AUBG Community
At the beginning of June the AUBG family was heartbroken tolearn the news of Professor Filitsa Mullen’s passing. One of our community’s most beloved members led a courageous fight with cancer and it was a shock to learn the treacherous disease prevailed. Many refused to believe.
Professor Mullen was one of AUBG’s most beloved faculty members and a remarkable giver to the community.
President Steve Sullivan’s address to the community read, “Filitsa joined the AUBG faculty in Fall ‘04, and has been a mainstay of our Writing and Literature program ever since. She has always been one of the most active faculty members in a variety of roles to serve the University, her faculty colleagues, and students. She has served as an advisor for students, chair of the Department of Arts, Languages, and Literature, chair of the Faculty Assembly, co-chair of the NEASC Self-study Committee, coordinator of the Writing Program, and many other roles. She always brought warmth, compassion, and devotion to AUBG, its students, and its employees to every role she filled.”
Friends, colleagues, current and former students have all mourned the loss. AUBG Professor Sabina Wien said, “I am happy to have had lots of chances to experience Filitsa’s multi-faceted personality in various situations, but if I close my eyes now, the first thing I see is her face as I saw it when I met her first. Her face, I believe, tells the brief story of who Filitsa Sofianou-Mullen was. I see her dark brown eyes, full of kindness and care for her learners, of passion for literature. I see her genuine smile, wide as her love for the pleasures she found in life – books, music, flowers, cooking, even – who would believe it? – accounting and numbers! Her high forehead, the symbol of her outspokenness, of her everlasting will to support justice and fairness in life. Her beautiful long hair, falling artistically down her shoulders, like the flow of inspiration she felt – the origin of her mythical poetry. This face will never perish. I miss her voice and I miss her soul.”
AUBG Professor and former Dean of Faculty Lucia Miree said, “Filitsa enriched my life. When I was upset, she made me laugh. When I was sad, she cried with me. When I was happy, she would hug me and be joyous. I would be excited when I saw her door open, knowing I could find a warm welcome and a generous spirit.”
Her words revealed Professor Mullen’s strength and bravery in battling her disease. “As she went through treatment, she seldom complained, preferring to talk about the university and teaching. She loved AUBG and gave it her all.”
Professor Miree also spoke about Professor Mullen’s creative personality and caring nature. “She used to visit my classes ‘for fun’ and then we would talk about what I was doing in my teaching and she would give me advice, but only when I asked for it. I always valued and used her feedback.
She would bring me little gifts from Greece or things she had made herself, usually saying ‘I saw this and thought of you’ or ‘I knew this would look perfect in your office.’ That was how she was. When I look at those things in my office, I will smile with memories of her.”
“Filitsa Mullen was really the reason I came to work at AUBG,” said Professor Sean Homer. He explained how they got in contact through a mutual friend in Thessaloniki and she invited him to Blagoevgrad to give a talk.
“When I arrived at AUBG she was very much the departmental ‘mother,’ we used to have literature meetings in the Mullens' apartment and Filitsa would always cook for us, which for those of us coming from out of town was always welcome. Students adored her classes; she is still the only English professor I know who could fill an elective course on Chaucer. Teaching just came naturally to her and she spoke so effortlessly about literature that one might think she never prepared. This was not the case, however, Filitsa thought a great deal about her classes and how to engage students who would not normally have any connection with British romantic or medieval literature. I also participated on a number of occasions at her ‘literary pizza evenings,’ when she would invite students and members of faculty from different departments to meet over a pizza and discuss a specific author or text,” he recounted.
Professor Mullen had a great impact on students, whom she inspired, motivated and served as an example for. “I first met Filitsa even before I applied to AUBG. I was already considering the university, but I was not sure. Then my grandmother told me there was a family living right across from her, where both husband and wife taught at AUBG. I went to visit them and ask some questions. She was very friendly to me and smiled a lot,” AUBG alumna Maria Draganova (’14) recalled her first meeting with the AUBG professor.
The former student also elaborated on Professor Mullen’s versatile personality, big heart and care for others. “Filitsa spoke Bulgarian very well and she would always greet my grandmother and ask her how she was. She knew my mother has health problems and she wanted to know how she was doing. She always also asked how I was doing at the university, and how I was feeling in general. Filitsa was also very involved with different activities outside her classes and was engaged in what was happening with the faculty, the administration and the governing body. She also helped people in need from Blagoevgrad.”
Draganova also spoke about Professor Mullen’s dedication to her work and AUBG. “Even though Filitsa was seriously ill, she did not take time off the university and continued with her classes and with grading papers. I am thinking now what if she took a leave and focused on getting better? Would she recover? Would she live longer? But then this was who she was – a responsible person and a fighter.”
The AUBG alumna was devastated by the news of Professor Mullen’s passing. “A few hours later I saw a white pigeon in the sky and I wished she is in a good place. I will remember her as the strong, courageous and friendly person she was. She was one of the best professors I had classes with, a devoted mother and wife and a dear friend to me,” she said.
More than a month following the tragic news, the AUBG community has not recovered. “My heart is heavy when I think of my AUBG life without her,” Professor Miree said.
“The ‘Teaching Excellence Award’ that was given for the first time this year was very much Filitsa's initiative and I know from talking to her just a few days before she died that she was proud that this would be part of her legacy at AUBG,” Professor Homer recounted.
“Filitsa will live in my heart as a friend, a soulmate, and a poet,” said Professor Lyubomir Terziev. “I would rather not reduce the first two hypostases to words.
What can I say about the third one, though? To say that Filitsa is a poet is to rehearse the obvious. She wrote and published poems that combine an uncompromising Nietzschean honesty with a visionary Blakean power. This is a fact,” he stated, citing Professor Mullen’s poem “Medea”:
In the end
madness will rise and sit
on the mother’s breast
she will not sleep for forty
nights or days
she will not drink sweet water
and will not eat fresh bread
she will not see the laughter
in the dimples
nor will adore those brown
curls any more.
“After re-reading lines like the ones above, one realizes that Filitsa is not just a writer of poetry. She is a maker (how Greek!) of new realities. Like Blake (one of her favorite poets), Filitsa was aware of the ubiquity of Ulro (the material world) and yet she never stopped dreaming of building her own Golgonooza (Blake’s New Jerusalem).
She actually kept building it every day by emanating the light that I will never forget.”
Professor Mullen has left behind a husband - John Mullen, another beloved AUBG professor and their son Marius. “Filitsa was my colleague, my mentor, my role model. She was my friend, and she always will be. The only thing I can give her now in return is telling her son Marius what a truly beautiful human being his mom was,” Professor Wien said.
The memorial for Prof. Mullen at AUBG is scheduled for Wednesday, September 20, 2017, 4:00 p.m. at the BAC auditorium.
Story by Despina Koleva-Hristova