The Simon and Garfunkle song, Bookends, talks about old friends and memories.
I went to a memorial service this weekend for a great man, Sam Armstrong.
Sam was a teacher at Centreville School. My son James went there, as did Sam’s son, Jack. I knew Sam in his roles as parent and teacher back then, but I didn’t see him much until I ran for office, and then I met him again through his involvement with the local democrats, and it was such a pleasure to see him again. He was one of those people who always made you feel better about life, just being in the same room with him.
As someone said at the service, Sam didn’t really remind you of anyone else- he was his own category. He was a kind listener, but not a tea and sympathy guy, so much as a “Well, dust yourself off and let’s go fix it” kind of guy. He pushed everyone around him to do better and be better, just to live up to his standards of always doing the right thing. It started with kindness, and always seeing the value someone brought to the table. He made kids feel like they were special, they were heard, and they had something to contribute.
Same worked at Centreville Layton School, a school for kids with learning disabilities. Often times these kids have had rocky school experiences, and come to Centreville with feelings of not quite fitting in in the world, and Sam was the kind of teacher who could help those kids feel valued and that they had something unique to contribute to the world and the school community. That can be a challenge with kids who aren’t used to that sort of fierce love and kindness- but Sam helped them all feel important.
He had a passion for the environment and native plants. He made kids feel a part of nature and science. His neighbors remember him as the guy who could fix anything, take the time to help a neighbor, and always, always, did the right thing.
I wish I got to spend more time with Sam, but even from a further distance, I always thought of him as a person who was someone we all wished there were more of in the world. Someone who was fiercely loyal and kind. Someone who was empathetic, but not sympathetic- he understood, but spurned you to take care of it, not wallow in pity.
It seems so unfair that he was taken from the world at a young age, by a particularly rare disease. His kids are still in those early years of adulthood, when a Dad’s advice is valued so much, and I know when I lost my Dad at that age, it was really hard. And as I looked at my son who is about Jack;’s age this weekend, I thought about how lucky we were, and that every moment we spend together as a family is precious. It was a reminder to me about how fleeting things can be, and how we can’t afford to waste time on things that don;t matter.
Thank you, Sam, for everything you taught me from afar. Thank you for everything you have done for kids over the years, and how you have inspired so many people to just do the right thing- always. We will miss you always.