Friday, August 22, 2014

Remembering Mr. Patton

Tomorrow, our middle school will host a memorial for the man the building was named after: Charles F. Patton--one of the best listeners I have known in education. He was so good at listening that even if you weren't looking for it you noticed it.

You noticed and felt the sincerity of his eyes on you. He was the model of mutual respect. He loved young people, education, and you knew he loved teachers.

credit: Norman Rockwell
Hired after he retired, I could consider myself "second generation Patton" yet I still came to know Charles because he embraced education and our school community as a part of his life. But, I have to admit, there is something in the way my "first-generation Patton" colleagues (those hired by Charles) speak about him. It was as if Charles stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and right into their lives because when they talk about Charles they all do one thing the same.

They smile.

And you notice and feel the sincerity in their eyes. His example imprinted that sincerity in them.

What resonates best with me is just how many stories from those colleagues begin with, "Charles would take you into his office and sit you down and..."

And talk.

Actually, he would press the right buttons so others could talk and he could listen. He gave them all of the time in the world. All of the time they ever needed. And he loved doing it.

You could see and feel that from his eyes too. I know that is a part of the reason why they smile when they remember Charles.

We all have the same hours in the day, yet Charles made it seem like he had all the time in world for you. He wasn't in a hurry with you. In a weird way that is difficult to explain, he indeed did have all of the time in the world for his staff, his students, and his community.

He freely gave everyone his time. All of it. And it was his joy and honor to do it.

Anytime I was around the man, he would take the time to look at me and ask me how I was...and after listening...he would ask about my class, or coaching, or the school play, or anything I was involved in. You couldn't walk within the vicinity of Charles and not be drawn into a heartfelt conversation with him.

During my first ten years in the building, I directed the school plays. Charles, long since retired, came to many of the performances. He would sit quietly off to the side and leave when it was done--careful not to attract attention or distract from the kids and their mentor. He would talk with me about it at another time.

I saw Charles in a folding chair at so many sporting events. Sometimes he would be talking with others--actually, they would be talking and he would be listening--and it would come as no surprise that he knew the names of the kids on the field.

I saw Charles at school concerts and I saw him in the evenings in the school library as the host for a community bridge night.

I saw Charles stop to talk to people. He always stopped. He stopped to talk to kids, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff--everyone. He seemed to stop time when he did it.

But what I remember is his eyes.

They were so focused on you. He was listening. He was giving you his time. And you would understand that.

Tomorrow, at the memorial, a large part of what I will think about and take a lesson from is his example as a listener and what an incredibly powerful tool listening can be for an educator.

And I am also going to think about time.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote "Love is so short, forgetting is so long."

I used to think about that line as sad. Yet, as I write and think about Charles, I can reinvent it as a happy line. We will memorialize and celebrate the much too short, wonderful tenure of Mr. Patton's love for education, young people, and teachers...and many will smile for a long, long time because they could never, ever possibly forget a man who did so much for so many.

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