by Layla Cypher
After 42 years of teaching at Rochester University, Dr. John R. Todd has now retired. In his time at RU, Todd was not the typical professor seen in most classrooms. He has been visually impaired for over 50 years, so he didn’t use screens, handouts or writing on the board.
Instead, he used his voice to teach and to recall all of the knowledge he had gained throughout his life.
His life story is dramatic to all who have yet to hear it and his journey to RU is full of surprises, both good and bad.
When Todd was living in Frankfurt, Michigan, at only 17 years old, he was drafted into the U.S. military to serve in the Vietnam War. The day before he expected to be shipped out, he was accepted into flight school where he trained for one year before being stationed in Vietnam as a highly-skilled fighter pilot.
On Jan. 17, 1969, Todd’s life changed forever. “I was attacking a target and it attacked me. I was in the backseat shooting rockets with the co-pilot in front. I was at the bottom of the dive when I was hit. I went unconscious and I felt us pulling away,” Todd said.
After a few minutes, he returned to the base where a doctor performed emergency surgery and saved his life. After being hit in the face, Todd suffered serious hearing loss, as well as the loss of his sight.
After this event, many would think their life was over, but Todd’s story was only beginning.
While spending months in the hospital recovering, Todd remained hopeful of his future and knew that there were so many things he still wanted to accomplish. He knew that there was a plan for him.
During his time recovering, Todd became a Christian and welcomed Jesus into his life. Because of this, he continued to have an even stronger hope for his life.
After recovering from his injuries, Todd moved to New York City where he met the love of his life, Joyce. Todd recalled meeting Joyce for the first time and joked, “It really was a blind date!” The couple dated for four or five months before getting married, and after a year of marriage, the Todds moved to Washington D.C. to attend law school at Georgetown University.
While living in Washington D.C., Todd worked to improve the lives of veterans struggling after the Vietnam War. He constructed the Veterans’ Disability Compensation and Survivors’ Benefits Act of 1978 that would help change the lives of widows and orphans of veterans killed in action. As the legislative director for the consolidated group of veterans, he spent a year and a half writing, lobbying and testifying in Congress to get the bill passed.
Todd first came to Rochester University in 1979 when it was still named Michigan Christian College. There he developed a passion for teaching and growing the community. Although Todd did not always imagine himself becoming a teacher, it is clear to everyone around him that he truly loves what he does.
Todd has also dedicated many years of his life to the Rochester University community, so it is only fitting that he was awarded the Most Outstanding Professor Award, presented by the faculty and staff of RU. Todd explained that this is one of his favorite awards he received. “The faculty and administration of this university have been my biggest inspirations, and Joyce, too,” Todd said.
Todd and his wife were presented with RU’s J. Robert & Mary Utley Philanthropist of the Year award in 2021 in recognition of their dedication to Rochester University over the years.
In addition to their support of RU, the Todds have served in their local church and supported missionaries and mission work.
Todd has received multiple awards for his service, including the Purple Heart, National Distinguished Veteran of the Year, and the Albert Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award from Who’s Who in America.
The RU community will miss Todd’s presence around campus. His legacy and love for this community will not be forgotten. All of us wish him happiness in his retirement!