Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/6/2009 (4267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on others."
-- Jackie Robinson, baseball legend
We're supposed to celebrate the perseverance and excellence of students at this time of year, but what about the perseverance and excellence of teachers?
Teachers like Mike Gaston.
"The legendary Mr. G" as one of his adoring students still calls him. The name of the legendary, tough -- and kind -- Mr. G came up this week when Calgary businessman Frank Lonardelli bestowed a $100,000 scholarship endowment on Gordon Bell High School and credited Mr. G with changing his life.
That column ("He wants to help others the way others helped him", June 25), prompted others to write in about their experiences with Mike Gaston the teacher.
And the man.
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Ardele Karaganis (Class of '85)
"Of the many memories I have of Mr. G, I fondly recall my Grade 9 graduation dance for which I had no date and an empty dance card as I was an overweight, awkward teenager. When the ever popular Stairway to Heaven began to play, Mr. Gaston requested that I dance with him and the next seven plus minutes were spent in conversation that successfully distracted me from dwelling on the unfulfilled expectations that I had of the evening.
"In Grade 10, as I moved out of the apartment I shared with my mother (due to issues fuelled by alcohol) and into my own apartment on Young Street, Mr. Gaston was ever present to query about my safety in my new digs and my ability to manage financially and academically with the multiple jobs I held. Throughout this difficult time he challenged me time and time again to apply the appropriate thought and consideration to my decision. Upon reading your article I dug out my high school yearbooks and I found one of his notes to me that read:
"To Ardele -- a quality lady". At a time when I often didn't feel like I possessed much 'quality' he encouraged me or rather forced me to look within myself to see what he clearly saw. He taught me at a very young age that you always have two choices when faced with adversity: you can forever be a victim and embrace all of the negativity that it brings or you can learn from the experience(s) and dig deep within yourself to find a strength that he always knew you possessed."
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Michael O'Brien (Class of '68)
"Mike was my Grade 9 teacher in 1964-65 and it was Mike who taught me to love jazz. He used to keep jazz LPs in his desk and listen to them at lunch. One day I stood outside his room listening to a music that I had never heard before and was intrigued by it. He noticed me and waved me into the room. He started talking about jazz and I screwed up the courage to ask if I could borrow an album. I took home an LP by Thelonious Monk and my musical world was changed. During the rest of my high school years Mike always lent me albums.
But what I remember most fondly about Mike Gaston is not what he did for me but what he did for my sister. Our father was dying of cancer and my sister was, of course, extremely upset. One evening she could no longer go to see our dad in the hospital so just my mom and I went. While we were gone, Mike dropped by my parents' house and spent a couple of hours with my sister. When my mom and I came home my sister, whom he called Marcus, told us that we had missed him. She said they had talked and what we noticed was that my sister was at peace and accepting of our father's approaching death.
I remember him for many things:
He always opened the gym for basketball on Saturday mornings. He was the only teacher my parents ever invited for supper. He was the only teacher I invited to my wedding. He was the only teacher ever invited to the reunion that the people I went to school with have each year.
He once gave me a poem by Edwin Markham that went:
"They drew a circle that kept me out
'Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout; But love and I had the wit to win; We drew a circle that included them in.'
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There was no obituary for Mike Gaston. Maybe that's why someone -- probably one of his former students -- contacted me and wanted me to write something about him in the spring of 2005 when Mike Gaston died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack.
But back then his widow, Louise Gaston, declined to be interviewed.
Yesterday Louise finally explained why. Mike didn't want an obituary. He didn't even want a service.
"He said when you're dead, you're dead."
Not, I respectfully suggest, when you've touched so many lives the way Mike Gaston did. Not when there are so many who still remember the impact that legendary Mr. G had on their lives.