Dear Mr. Nelson,
The day you called for an interview at Lin-Wood Public School was May 3, 2003, the very day we lost our Old Man on the Mountain. The phone rang, and I didn’t hear it right away because I was celebrating my graduation from a Masters in Education program. The music was loud, and I may have been drinking a margarita. When you then called a second time to offer me the position in your English department, I was celebrating again, this time my brother’s birthday. I knew I would really love working for you because your response to the noisy banter in the background was perfect, “Family is important so I’ll keep this short–would you like to come teach at Lin-Wood?”
The decision to teach in this school 13 years ago has been one of my best life choices. This is the place where I too have grown up, where I met my husband, became a mom, and wrote a book. Beyond crazy to think I was not even born when you first came to Lin-Wood 44 years ago, a young teacher fresh out of college, ready to tackle the lifelong career of an educator. You helped me to stand my ground coaching my first Varsity sport dealing with challenging parents. You asked about Geoff when we first started dating, and I’m pretty sure you cried at our wedding. You listened carefully, even if uncomfortable, as I explained the IVF process to you and the random school days I would miss, but you were you– and you listened. Even if your face turned Bob Nelson red (an actual color) to match your hair.
The thing is, you’ve been this paternal figure to thousands of people over the years, for the students who’ve passed through these halls, sometimes their parents, in addition to the countless professionals you’ve challenged to be better teachers in your tenure as principal. You somehow knew the balancing act early on as a team player with wife Jodi, someone else I aspire to be like in my 60’s, jet setting to California for family time, hiking mountains and skiing black diamonds without stopping to rest. Your kids and grandchildren obviously know you as a different kind of dad and grandpa, one they probably didn’t always agree with. One of the reasons I’ve been able to improve my craft is that you’ve empowered teachers to think beyond the classroom. Your office is a safe space for me to tell you why I think you are right–or wrong about something. You may not agree with me, but you’ve always allowed us to question in order to create open, honest, and professional dialogue.
We are really going to miss you in our school, but you have become part of our thread, the black, white, and red plaid fabric of our community with a splash of humor, strength, and hard work. For 44 years, you have been part of NH soccer fields, gymnasiums, and the NHIAA; for 44 years, you have been the face of the Lumberjacks from teaching PE and coaching to becoming an administrator; for 44 years, you handled teachers, the young ones who came into your office crying because they screwed up on their taxes or wondered when you would hire their long term sub for maternity leave, the more experienced ones who thought aloud about other ways to support kids, and everyone in between; for 44 years, you’ve driven the bus when needed or plunged toilets or served lunch or stayed late because some meeting, prom, or fundraiser needed you present; for 44 years, you’ve dealt with the kids who have screamed, “Fuck you” or “bitch” or worse–their parent did; you’ve helped kids with complicated home situations to feel safe at school; you’ve risen above the passive and/ or aggressive attacks via social media and have tried to help students to rise above as well; for 44 years, you’ve modeled for this town, old and young alike, what it means to be a school leader even when dissension or conflict occurs. You’ve never pretended to have all the answers, even when that was expected of you. You’ve adjusted to changing superintendents and vice principals; from block scheduling to competency education; you’ve transitioned from “old school” to today when Google rules the world. More importantly, you’ve survived No Child Left Behind and actual SNOW DAYS, even calling one this year the night before.
After 44 years in public education, you deserve to retire, even if Jodi and you are busy as ever. Thank you for your years of service to our kids, our community, and for being our own children’s first principal. Twenty years ago, my very first principal told me after an observation that I had no control over my students and walked out of my room; you would never have done that; you’ve coached, guided, and helped each of us along our professional path in different ways. We will be forever grateful. You are another kind of “man of the mountains” and even though you are stepping away from the office, your ripple effect, along with a good chunk of your heart, remains here. You were right, so I’ll keep this short. Family is important, and you’ve been family to me.
Jodi, Jeremy, Tracy: thank you for sharing him with us over the years.