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Remembering Mr. Ford

Debbie Leffler • Sep 26, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Mr. Ford is dead.

My husband, matter-of-factly, announced this from the living room Monday evening. I was in the kitchen, and he had just read an email about it.

“No. He’s not dead,” I said illogically. “He’s not dead,” I repeated, as if by repeating it I could undo it.

Mr. Ford taught eighth grade when I started teaching. I had freshmen that year, and he was a difficult act to follow.

I never met a student who didn’t love him.

It wasn’t just the “good” students, either – he had a way of reaching every student, and making each one feel special.

My own biological children had him in eighth grade. He taught English, but he did much more. He advised the eighth grade newspaper, before the advent of our current technology. Students wrote the articles, typed them, and the newspaper was xeroxed and stapled and distributed. He produced the eighth grade play, which was performed in the basement of the old Benedict School (now the central office), and all the participants were stars. This was all extra time he spent beyond the school day.

He taught The Diary of Anne Frank in a way that made it meaningful to all. He took a few students to meet Miep Gies, the non-Jewish woman who helped the Frank family when they were in hiding. She spoke in Ohio, and he took a few students to hear her.

He had a gift for teaching, and for caring.

Then there’s Lefty Grove. He put in countless hours outside of school coaching and running that baseball league.

I was surprised when, this past Tuesday in class, one of my sophomore students said to me, “Did you hear about Mr. Ford?”

He was too young to have ever had Mr. Ford as a teacher – he had long retired. But Mr. Ford had coached him in Lefty Grove and after that, my student had umpired games for him. My student was visibly saddened – Mr. Ford had touched him, too.

He touched me – responding to my columns when I occasionally spoke out for social justice and he would call me brave. Not brave, Mr. Ford. Just writing. But you, Mr. Ford, were the brave one, on the front lines of our youth, teaching them not just how to play baseball or how to read literature, but how to be decent human beings. This you did, not by preaching, but by example.

So when I said “no” to Mr. Ford being dead, perhaps indeed he is not dead. He lives on in all the students and adults he touched.

Mr. Ford, you will never read this column to tell me what you think of it, but I hope I have done you justice. Rest in peace, Mr. Ford. You do live on.

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