On Monday night, one of the most amazing and energetic people I’ve ever known, Leroy Gilkey died.
We taught together since I joined the staff at Westerville North in 2003, and shared many of the same students over the years. The imagination, inspiration, creativity and enthusiasm he brought to his classroom served as an inspiration to me over the years, and I have resolved to follow, a little more, Leroy’s example as I continue on.
In the years that I knew him I NEVER saw him when he wasn’t laughing, smiling, or in a genuinely happy mood (which for the past 18 months in our district with the various financial absurdity that has been going on, is a remarkable feat in, and of itself). I take that back. I actually watched him get frustrated for a total of about 4 seconds one day, only for him to replace his growl with that incredible laugh of his, realizing how ridiculous negative emotion sounded coming from him.
One perpetually upbeat student of mine was puzzled as to why she was so upset, considering that she was never a student of his. But every morning, on her way to another Spanish classroom, as she walked past his room, he was always the only one to reciprocate that smile she had for people at an hour when most didn’t even want to be standing, let alone be happy to be walking to class. He made those kinds of connections with kids, even those to whom he never uttered a word.
He had an innate ability to brighten a day with that smile, or a hello, or that distinctive, infectious laugh.
Tuesday, after only a few hours to coordinate, two Westerville North alumni organized a candlelight vigil in Leroy’s memory. It was attended by, my estimate, no less than 500 current students, alumni, staff and community members. At first, I remarked to a colleague standing next to me about the power of social media. Within a few minutes, after witnessing the outpouring of emotion, I amended my observation. Facebook and Twitter got the word out, but that humongous crowd was totally a testament to the power of Señor Gilkey.
I’ll miss my colleague. I’ll miss seeing him in our facilitator’s (dept. chair) meetings. I’ll miss seeing him in the copier room. I’ll miss that unmistakeable laugh giving away his presence in the copy room before I even got there. I’ll miss the smell from the World Language hallway from the many feasts he organized with his students. I’ll miss the excitement in my students’ voices when they recounted what they were doing that week in Señor Gilkey’s class. I’ll miss the innocence lost by those same students who had to find out far too early that the world is not always a beautiful place. I’ll miss the world with Leroy Gilkey in it that was.