It’s been six years since my oldest brother Stan passed away. It was very much a surprise, as he was only 67 and still employed full time as a special education teacher, which he had been – at the same Florida school – for three decades.
The school had a wonderful memorial service for him, and I was struck with how his colleagues there probably knew him better than I did. I was, after all, 8 years his junior, and only 10 when he went off to college. But over the years, when he came up to visit our parents, and when I visited him in Florida, we spent time together, and got to know each other, as adults. I certainly wish that we had more of that; there is a lot to talk about. *
Looking back on his life, there are three areas that are especially impressive to me, and stand as the measure of the man.
First, he was a soldier who served his country. In his early 20’s following graduation from college and the Reserve Officer Training Core (ROTC), he was commissioned as an officer and served in Vietnam as a Platoon Leader, responsible for 40 men in active combat zones. He was awarded a Bronze Star as well as a Purple Heart during that time, and left the service as a First Lieutenant.
I remember how relieved I was at his return, and how proud I was of him. He was a hero to our family, as well as many in our community, and though the experience was certainly a dark one, and probably scarred him for life, it was not yet complicated by the divisions in our larger society about the war. Those difficulties were yet to come. But there were demons, even from the beginning, and his struggles with them were probably a constant throughout his life.
Second, he was a father to Katie and Kristin, his two wonderful children. He and his wife divorced when Katie – the oldest – was not yet ten, and his wife moved to Florida with them shortly thereafter. Though Stan was a lifelong New Englander, with a deep and rich network of personal and professional connections here, he opted to move to FL, where no one knew him from Adam. He did so to be as actively involved as possible in their lives. I don’t know how easy a decision it was for him, and we never really spoke about it, leading me to believe that he always felt it was the right one, and furthermore, that it was the ONLY one. Katie and Kristin were then, and are now, beautiful human beings, due in no small part to the responsibility that both he and their mother took with them along the way. (And the four grandchildren are equally impressive.)
Third, he was a lifelong educator, and spent the last three decades of his life as a special education teacher in FL. Some of us might fully appreciate the difficulties of teaching a class of 10-15 special needs children, day in and day out. It is a task which requires stamina, creativity and a high level of motivation. It was something he was remarkably gifted at, and, as his supervisor there remarked at the memorial service: “He literally wrote the book on this. Literally, he wrote a book on his methods…”.
The outpouring of emotion and regard at the memorial was an amazing thing to witness and be a part of. Once again, I felt so very proud of him, and how he impacted the lives of those around him, despite the difficulties in his own life.
He was a special man, and I do miss him.
* Including this blog, and photography in general. He was a great photographer, LOVED Flickr, and always supported my own photography, including letting me borrow his cameras whenever I needed to.