One of Uri Manor's earliest memories is his father promising to someday commit suicide. "He had been saying that for as long as I remember," says Manor, a 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University. "He was saying he would never die of old age. He never wanted to be a burden."
He describes his father, David Manor, as a principled, brilliant man, a self-professed atheist who favored close-cropped hair and round spectacles. His Hebrew nickname was "Dudu." As a teenager, the Israeli-born Manor lived on a kibbutz.
Later, he was a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, before finding his real calling as a mechanical engineering and aerospace professor. Manor taught at Saint Louis University for 22 years. But the final years of his tenure were marred by repeated run-ins with SLU administrators, which led to his firing in the fall of 2005.
Upon his dismissal, Manor chose not to look for another job. Instead, he undertook a quixotic effort to win legal redress from SLU president Father Lawrence Biondi.
According his son, after Manor's termination the family went without an income or health insurance, and the 62-year-old Manor became what he hoped never to be a burden.
"He always told [the family] they'd be better off if he was dead, because he had a big life insurance policy," says Uri Manor. "People have a hard time believing someone can be so philosophical and do something like that, but I never doubted it."
On Sunday, November 5 the eve of his 63rd birthday Professor Manor, a trim, physically fit man, told his wife, Chava, he was going to Borders Books. Instead, he walked two miles from their home near Creve Coeur and checked into Courtyard by Marriott at Westport. He asked the receptionist for a room at the very end of the hall. And then, using his nine-millimeter Smith & Wesson handgun, he shot himself in the head.
"My sister went there to see the room he had done it in," recalls Uri Manor. "The woman at the desk had checked him in and had found him. She told her that he was nice, considerate, happy, and a true gentleman. No one heard the shot. He got all the towels he could find and laid them down in a corner, so he didn't make any more of a mess than necessary."
The story of Manor's suicide, like that of his life, is equal part tragedy and triumph. A bright aerospace student who emigrated to the United States with his wife in 1978, Manor clashed with his superiors as a graduate student at Virginia Tech before receiving his Ph.D. at Wichita State University.
At SLU's Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, though, he found great pleasure in teaching.
"Everything he ever did was for his students," says his son, himself a former student of his father's and a 2005 Parks graduate. "My dad was all about independence. On his syllabus, it said, 'I will not spoon-feed you.' One time his students took his desk out of his office and put it on the roof, and put a sign on it that said, 'We will not spoon-feed you.' He took a picture of it, and kept it in his office ever since."
While much admired by some students, others found his classroom manner inappropriate. In 1991 his other son, Guy, who was stricken with AIDS, committed suicide. A grieving Manor recounted the tragedy to his students, often telling them his son had done the right thing. "To say it was disturbing would be putting it mildly," says SLU senior Tim Cooper, who had classes with Manor in 2004 and 2005.
In recent years conflicts with SLU administration began to consume him. In a scathing twenty-page letter found in his Westport hotel room, Manor lashed out at Biondi, faculty members and the Catholic Church itself. Manor titled his note "Shalom Jesuit: An Open Letter to President/Dr./Fr Biondi" and wrote, "The sad fact is that SLU is not really an institute of higher learning. The Jesuits have been running it as if it was an extension of the Catholic Church."
Manor also wrote that in 2001 Parks Dean Charles Kirkpatrick removed four students from one of his classes after they complained the course was too difficult. In the letter, Manor said he was never consulted.
The angry professor called on the dean to resign "for the good of Parks College." Kirkpatrick responded by refusing to sign off on his annual raise, Manor claimed.
Kirkpatrick, a SLU chemistry professor who no longer serves as a dean, says he cannot comment on personnel issues. Neither Biondi nor SLU's media-relations department responded to requests for comment. Uri Manor says he e-mailed his father's "Open Letter" to Biondi but never received a response.
For years after the dust-up with Kirkpatrick, Manor unsuccessfully petitioned Biondi for the raise he believed he was owed.
"[At] my dad's twentieth-year ceremony at SLU, Biondi was shaking the hands of everyone onstage," remembers Uri Manor. "When my dad shook his hand, he looked at him, smiled and said, 'You still owe me $7,000, you asshole.'"
David Manor was suspended from the university in April 2005, accused of ethical improprieties and sexual harassment after he e-mailed his students links to what Manor termed "somewhat colorful jokes." One of them was titled "Composition of a woman's personality" and read, in part, "If you're not good looking and you're not rich, then you're pretty much screwed (unless the girl is horny, in which case she'll use you for what she wants, even if you're ugly)."
Manor said his 65 students requested the e-mails. "A sense of humor has no taboos. A joke is a joke is a joke. Look it up in Webster's," he told the Saint Louis University News.
After he was fired by Biondi in October 2005, Manor zealously devoted himself to exposing what he called corruption and hypocrisy at the Jesuit university. He accused another Parks professor of sexually harassing a student, claimed other faculty members were anti-Semites and said that Biondi ran the university like a dictator.
In the letter to Biondi, Manor storms, "Your greed, lack of integrity and 'holier than thou' attitude made you accuse me of 'Sexism/Sexual-Harassment' rather than give my owed back-pay you PROMISED! The Catholic Church is the most sexist institution in the world!"
Many of Manor's former colleagues are reluctant to speak about him, for fear of drawing the ire of SLU's administration. One Parks College professor, who asked not to be identified in this story, says the university was out to get Manor. "But he had plenty of opportunities to save himself," the professor adds. "He did not see the danger signs. He was irrational. He self-destructed."
Insisting he was unjustly fired and slandered by SLU administrators, Manor retained St. Louis attorney Bob Herman to file a wrongful termination suit against the university.
"He thought, as many students and faculty did, that they didn't fire him because of the e-mails. They were looking for an excuse because he was the only one with the balls to speak out against Biondi," says Uri Manor. "He said he's glad he never learned how to pretend it was raining when people were pissing on him." Manor adds that his father had no history of mental illness.
The wrongful termination suit was never filed and, a few months ago, Herman dropped the case altogether. In an interview last week, Herman said Manor asked him to. Uri Manor says the lawyer told his father he was too busy to continue as counsel. Whatever the case, the professor grew increasingly despondent.
Despite Manor's lifelong promise to kill himself, his wife says she was wholly unprepared.
"He wanted to be in control of his exit," says Chava Manor. "And then you put this against things going on in his life, and that might be what contributed to it happening at this particular time why he didn't wait a year or two or three."
Says Uri Manor: "He always said if you're afraid of death, you can't live your life truly and fully. But if you're not afraid of death, you're not afraid of anything. He used to joke with me when I was very young that the only thing you should be afraid of is dinosaurs and they're extinct."
After finishing the twenty-page letter to Biondi, Manor signed off as such: "TRANSFORM!
I have no regrets you should and will!
P.S. You should also know that my 'future plans' are right on schedule!"