During a bout of nostalgia not too long ago, I thought about three people who entered and then left my life at various times. For very different reasons, each left an indelible mark on my life. Without knowing it at the time, each added to my development and my future.
The first person who came to mind was the unforgettably named Tilly Waite. She was my fifth-grade science teacher. She was a diminutive woman with a large, dark wort just above her lips with a voice loud and harsh enough to demand attention, even from a young boy. The fact that a female was teaching science may have been a little unusual in late 1950s America, but that had nothing to do with her ability to stick in my memory for over sixty years.
Ms. Waite was the first teacher I remember who encouraged, no, actually demanded, independent thinking from her students. Ten-year-olds are not used to that. We were of the age when the authority figures in our lives told us what to do and think. We followed the rules, memorized for a quiz, and kept our heads down.
Not in Tilly's class. What did we know about galaxies, why gravity works, or how to mix a few chemicals together to cause a volcano to spout? Our minds weren't really equipped to consider theories and rules of nature. Yet, by the end of that school year, she had stimulated something in me that turned me into a life-long learner. She prodded me to think on my feet, consider alternative scenarios, and never simply memorize something, without understanding the why.
Jump ahead to my Sophomore year in high school and into my life walked John Durkin. He was my AP creative writing teacher and certainly the most important influence on my desire to write. He was simultaneously stimulating and sarcastic with a strong English accent and, strangely, a facial wort similar to Tilly's. He never met a paragraph he liked, a metaphor that wouldn't make him cringe, or a student he didn't love and encourage.
Frankly, I do not (Mr. Durkin didn't like contractions) remember any specific part of that class that opened up the joy of the written word. Instead, it was simply in a room for 45 minutes with someone who made his passion real and accessible to his students.
The following year I became editor of the school newspaper, something beyond my abilities and interests before John. I have been writing ever since.
The third person is the man who gave me a chance to prove myself when I desperately needed it. After almost six years as a radio DJ in Syracuse and suburban Boston, I was in a professional rut. Playing records and saying something clever in 15 seconds was fun but was not satisfying anymore. I needed a real challenge, and Bill Freed gave it to me.
|Studios on the third floor...no elevator|
He responded to my application for the position of Program Director for his radio station, WCLG, in Morgantown, West Virginia. After flying me into town for an in-person interview, he graciously ignored my silly long hair and tweed sports coat and offered me the job. Becoming a Program Director was a big deal, a significant step forward.
The Program Director is responsible for almost everything that is broadcast on that station: who to hire and fire, what music to play, how often the news is broadcast and by whom, ideas for contests, and an overall sound good enough for the salespeople to sell commercial time, pay the bills, and make Mr. Freed happily.
In terms of population and influence in the radio industry, Morgantown was a serious step down from the likes of Syracuse and Boston. In radio, size does matter. Yet, for me, it was a giant leap forward. To be given control over what the 25,000 folks living in Morgantown would hear every day was the step that helped open up a career path that would never have been possible without that first, big break.
I should add that Morgantown had two other factors that made my decision to move to northern West Virginia a wise one. My favorite uncle, the man I was named after, lived there. He was the head of the library system for West Virginia University. After becoming established, Uncle Bob and I would regularly meet for lunch at the place in town where most professors and business leaders had their meals. Sitting at the same table and noting the stream of people stopping by the table to exchange a brief word with Bob was a magnificent experience. I felt like a gown up.
The other factor that made Morgantown so memorable happened on a blind date just ten days after arriving in town: I met Betty Montgomery. A few years later, Betty agreed to add Lowry to her name; she became my wife and the mother of my two daughters. Forty-Six years later, we remain husband and wife.
If Bill Freed hadn't agreed to take on a completely untested radio nerd to run his radio station, my life would have been very different. Mr. Freed died of cancer at the too-young age of 62, in 1979. To his memory, I am eternally grateful.
Three people, three unique individuals, three major impacts on my life. They left their mark and I remain indebted all these decades later.
It's good to think back on who and why a person made a difference. I'd like to think maybe I was that person for someone elseReplyDelete
Maybe in their top 25 at least.
We all hope we have left a positive mark with at least one non-family member. Too often we will never know.Delete
Thank you for sharing these stories. You had some great people in your life. I think we all have had them, but not always easy to capture them on paper.ReplyDelete
These three immediately came to mind when the idea for this post came to me. There are probably dozens more, but you have to start somewhere!Delete
I can still picture Ms. Waite's classroom some 63 years ago.
Your stories about teachers reminded me of a wonderful story about my high school Spanish teacher. She had a lasting impact on me and was a safe refuge in a turbulent time in my life. Decades later, I tracked her down her address and wrote her a letter expressing my appreciation and gratitude. She wrote back a lovely letter talking about what teaching had meant to her. I kept and treasured that letter, a remarkable thing since I rarely kept correspondence.ReplyDelete
Some years after that exchange, I got a letter from an unknown person. It was her daughter, telling me that her mother had died. Among her mother's things, she found the letter I had written, and she wanted me to know how much it meant to her. I responded and sent back to her the letter that her mother had written to me.
It was such a beautiful circle of connection spanning years. We don't always know how what we do affects others. All the more reason to say thank you whenever possible.
That is a powerful example of how a simple gesture can radiate love and respect for much longer than we could even imagine. Touching someone else with a heartfelt emotion is not that hard to do, but impossible to measure its longterm impact.Delete
It warms my teacher's heart that two of the three people who were memorable for their outsized influence on your life were teachers. At a time when so many teachers are feeling exhausted, burned out, and devalued, we need to be reminded of their lasting influence in children's lives.ReplyDelete
My mom was a teacher for decades. I know she had students seek her out years later to thank her for what she had done for them.Delete
I believe teachers are crucially important in helping determine a child's future. Why our present day society seems to believe the opposite is a major point of frustration for me.
I still remember Mr. Shuler. He was my high school history teacher/farmer. He got me started in the love of history. I think if he had to describe himself it would likely be farmer first. He had been around my small rural high school for decades.ReplyDelete
The second one was Mrs. Bailey. She was the Latin teacher who insisted we know that Latin was the root language for English and many other languages. She started me out on being a wordsmith. Her toga parties were corny but all the students enjoyed them.
As Jean mentioned above, teachers can have an outsized and lasting impression on young lives.Delete
If I hadn't become enthralled with radio at such an early age, being a teacher would have been a likely career path for me. I saw the love and impact my mom had on her 5th graders. I would have been proud to follow in her footsteps.
Like you, Bob, I've had key people in my life who have had a major impact. On the top of the list is Dr. E.G. Andy, a speech pathologist. Fifty years ago, while unemployed, I went to the state labor office to look for employment. When the clerk asked for my name, I had a severe stuttering episode. As I struggled so hard to say my name, it looked like I was having a seizure and I even drooled some saliva. I was unable to fluently state my name because I was severely speech handicapped. The clerk bluntly told me "Sir, you need speech therapy more than a job. Dr. Andy is doing great things with stutterers at the Wayne State University Speech and Hearing Clinic. Go there now!"ReplyDelete
Dr. Andy, a very calm man, told me that he used to stutter as severely as I did, and that he couldn't even speak on the phone until he was 21 years old. He said he would teach me the techniques he learned. He was vey confident that I could "beat" stuttering. I was somewhat skeptical of Dr. Andy's treatment enthusiasm because I had 12 years of public school speech therapy with no improvement whatsoever. Dr. Andy's methodology was so unorthodox that some of his colleagues mocked him and called him a quack, in spite of his outstanding success. He focused on changing brain patterns (neuroplasticity) via deliberate practice exercises.
I was sick and tired of stuttering. A plan to ask a girl for a date provoked days of anticipatory anxiety and preparation. I was very concerned about limited career options if I keep severely stuttering. Severe adult stuttering is very difficult to cure. Yet, I was motivated to focus my energy on doing repetitive speaking exercises daily and faithfully attending individual and group therapy with Dr. Andy. I religiously did the work because I wanted to be cured like Dr. Andy. I thought that if he could be fluent so could I. In other words, he was not only a therapist, but was a role model.
He clearly told me that I would have to push myself to become intentionally uncomfortable to tackle stuttering head-on, such as making daily phone calls, constantly asking questions in college classes, and taking a college level public speaking course. I did all those things and more. I made progress then hit relapses, taking three steps forward and two steps backward. That was discouraging. Dr. Andy then encouraged me to keep practicing. After two years of doing the work suggested by Dr. Andy the relapses stopped. A foundation of new speaking patterns was firmly rooted in my brain, just as Dr. Andy predicted.
Today, talking is one of my favorite hobbies. I thought about Dr. Andy often during my career as a probation officer. I testified in several hundred court hearings and never stuttered. I'm 100% fluent, something I don't take for granted. I'm not the only one who occasionally calls Dr. Andy and says, "You had a great impact on my life. Thank you."
That is a great story. I have known some stutterers in my life. It is obvious they were hurting.Delete
It is a blessing that you found Dr. Andy, someone who took a true interest in you and became an important mentor. I imagine he feels quite good when a former patient thanks him for a life-saving gift of clear speech.
Back in the late 1970’s,suffering horrendous frequent migraines, I was directed to visit Dr. Ron Peak, a chiropractor about 25 miles from where we lived (back in the day before there was a Chiro on every corner!) Not only did Dr. Ron and his wife Patty, relieve me of years of suffering, they taught Ken and I about nutrition ,stress management,natural healing and the wondrous abilities of our own bodies to heal when given the proper tools. Our lives were so changed, that Ken decided to change his own career path, we left town for him to attend Palmer College of Chiropractor, and the rest is family history! The other influential person who comes to mind is Mrs Raley, my pediatrics nursing instructor. She became my role model for nursing practice and instilled a hard work ethic as well as personal integrity. She helped me live up to becoming my best self! It’s fun to read about other people’s mentors and influencers. And it reminds us, that we can be a role model for others,too..sometimes just a kind word, a smile, or just good example..can change the life of someone else! P.S. So glad you had that blind date! It turned out well!!!!lolReplyDelete
Blind dates do not have a very good reputation, but this one has lasted 46 years!Delete
I have found great relief from both chiropractor and physical therapy approaches. My goal is avoiding pills if there is any other safe alternative.
I completely agree with your point about the need for mentors. It should be both our responsibility and honor to pass along what we can to help someone else.
Hi Bob! What great stories of people who inspired you. I'm always a bit envious when I hear stories of how some people have been mentored by some truly inspiring people. That's mainly because looking back, while I never had anyone discourage me or dissuade me, I also don't remember anyone besides my parents being that supportive. I did well in school but no teacher stands out. And while my parents very clearly loved me, they (especially my father) didn't believe in higher education so never encouraged college or any other avenue after school. Luckily I've always been very curious and a self-starter so I managed to explore lots of things but never had any direction so floundered quite a bit. Then I met my husband Thom and together we just started "making it up." As it turns out Thom has been my one and only inspiration--he suggested and encouraged me to write from the very beginning. I sometimes wonder what I would have become if I hadn't found him. I also wonder how different my life might have been if I'd found mentors or anyone else that would have encouraged or directed me when I was young. While I love my life and struggle to imagine anything better, I do think that other "path" would have been an alternate reality. And surely my experience is an example of how valuable a mentor or at least someone who cares can perhaps have a major influence on the life of a young person. !KathyReplyDelete
We will delve deeper when we see you two next month!Delete
Supportive, loving parents make a tremendous difference in someone's life, just as distant and critical ones can do so much longterm harm.
Since I have the blessing of three nearby grandkids, I am constantly reminded of the power of my words and actions.
Love these stories. This post has made me think a lot, but I'm still not sure which influences I would count as most memorable. So many. But very thought provoking. And, as always, I love the comments discussion.ReplyDelete
Just an advance warning: if the quality of comment interplay ever drops significantly, I would be hard-pressed to continue blogging. It is the supportive and engaged nature of this community that keeps me going.Delete