I had kind of lost track of him since his retirement, so I was surprised when I heard that he had died. But it didn't take long for many memories to quickly surface of the time we spent in the hallways, in meetings, and just talking about life in general. At the service, I listened to a couple of family members describe him and how much he had touched their lives too, because as much as he loved education, his family was the centerpiece of his life.
There are so many ways that we touch the lives of others, and yet we might not even notice because they seem insignificant or unconnected at the time. Jim influenced me in ways that I know I didn't even realize at the time, but in the last few days as I thought back on the many years that I worked for him, it was apparent that he definitely left a footprint or two in my life and actually helped shape my career. I never thought about him in terms of being the best principal I ever had, but he did positively impact me in many ways. He didn't really inspire me with speeches but he made me think because of the questions he asked. I learned how to use computers from him when they first became a part of schools. He was instrumental in getting me involved in school improvement issues which became the path my career would take several years later. When I was thrust into the role of interim high school principal during the early and extended maternity leave of our regular principal, he was there to support me, guide me, and help make my experience a successful one. There were also the days he had to call me in as a parent so he could hand out some consequences for my daughter and he always did so in a way that preserved my dignity as a parent and her dignity as a student. He rarely said it, but you always knew that he cared and valued you as a person and as a professional.
"To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever" is a familiar saying that we believe to be true, but maybe don't totally realize the implications this statement implies. Jim touched a lot of lives in his long educational career. And now I sit and think this evening about how precious the time is that we spend on this earth, and how we will spend that time. You like to think as an educator, that you do make a difference. But I would hope that everyone would want to be a positive influence in the lives of others no matter what profession was chosen.
The things that Jim did to influence people were subtle, but had a high degree of impact, and those might be the best lessons we learn from him. He was thoughtful and carefully considered his options before making decisions. Yet he was curious and wanted to learn new things and how they worked. He was often a man on a mission and he could get to the bottom of anything he set out to do, but without stirring the waters too much. He asked a lot of questions, sometimes to the point you just wanted to shake him, but it really did cause you to think. He was slow to anger and rarely over reacted. It probably helped that he didn't talk without thinking first. He had an easy smile, and a twinkle in his eye. You always knew when he was about to share something that would make both of you laugh just a little. He had plenty of faults, like we all do, but they never overshadowed all the good he did. And he did that without fanfare or expectation.
So 15 years after he retired, we gathered to say good bye to a good man, and suddenly I realized just how much he had touched my life. So Jim, I'm glad our paths crossed in this life, and I'm also glad that I have come to appreciate and recognize how much you influenced me too. In fact I wouldn't be sitting here at the computer right now if you hadn't taught me how to use one. You certainly did touch my life forever and I thank you for that. Say hello to Jane for me because she had a big influence on me as well. You two made a great team and there are a lot of students and educators out there who are better because of the ways you touched their lives.