This is a blog I must write. And yet, it is one of those blogs where I am neither smart enough to know exactly what is best to say, or naive enough to think I am the only one that feels the way I do.
And honesty I am feeling all of the human emotions of the moment. You know, like the acronym SASHET: Sad, Angry, Scared, Happy, Excited, Tender. I have been feeling them all for the past week. I suspect you are too. It is just what happens to us when someone we love is no longer directly in our lives.
Last Wednesday our friend, colleague, mentor, and inspirational educational thought leader died. Age 69, and after a two and half year battle with an unexplainable Stage IV lung cancer for a career athlete and non-smoker. Far too young. And far too courageous to become a footnote.
Rick DuFour was one of those rare humans whose being made our profession significantly better. He uplifted the lives of thousands of educators like you and me, and never did he think it was about him. It was always about the mission.
Like some, I had the benefit of growing up with him as our professional journey unfolded, and perhaps the most fascinating and fundamental aspect of his human being, was how surprised he always was by his success. And, how much he delighted in the success and growth of others.
There was this larger than life aura about him and then you met him, and you thought, "Gosh he’s just a normal guy." Only he wasn’t. There was not a lot about Rick that was normal. Being around him elevated us. He called us to act as professionals, and to be "above and beyond normal" every day.
Because in his words:
Because in his words:
The very lives of the students we teach depend upon us
He had a way to make you think about your work within the profession with increased clarity and reason, without being judgmental. Other than being incredibly competitive no matter the game played (like catch-phrase) he had a down to earth openness and interest in you. You felt as if your being, when with him, was one of those experiences to embrace. Your work and effort mattered to him.
During the early 90’s at Stevenson, the faculty and staff were starting to rock the house. We are on fire and pursuing what would eventually become known as the PLC At Work culture Rick pioneered with Bob Eaker. Rick was intense and driven toward the pursuit of excellence, and had several job offers to leave Stevenson, as you might imagine. And in a quiet breakfast moment with him, on a Saturday morning in Evanston, IL he had to make his choice. To stay or to leave?
I never forgot his answer.
“I can't leave Stevenson”. “It is not so much the place as it is the people. I love the commitment of our faculty and staff, our community and the Board; and our experiences together to figure out how to educate our students in unprecedented ways. How do you replace our people?”
Well, that explains this mish mash of emotions we are going through right now. We don’t replace them… especially the good ones, like Rick. But we can extend the spirit of his life’s work and always remember how he experienced life with us. Our professional experiences with him, can and should be passed on to the next generation's experiences with us.
In 2013, USC Professor Dallas Willard stated:
The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; and it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices we have lived through or made in our past. A person is essentially a collection of conscious experiences. Far more than just bodies or just appetites, we are our experiences. That is why we treasure the good ones.
Rick was far more than just his body, thoughts, and words. His spirit is in each of us because when we had experiences with him, he noticed us. Like so many, I am grateful that my lifetime "collection of experiences" included Rick. Despite the the gauntlet of SASHET emotions I feel today.
Rick’s heartprint is on all of us that experienced his path – directly or indirectly, brief or otherwise. May we cherish it, and carry on his work, in the service of our profession and the learning of children.
It will be his legacy and become ours; and I suspect it would both delight and surprise him.
In the words of renown philosopher Dr. Suess, Rick would be the first one to tell us: Don't cry because it is over; smile because it happened.
In memoriam and with love, may we smile today.