The world lost a great man today. He was not rich, unless you count the lives he touched. He was not famous, although almost everyone in Glasgow knew his name. He was not a powerful man, but he influenced more lives than most people could ever hope to do.
Mr. Foster (for that is how I will always think of him) came into my life when I was 7 years old. I was in 3rd grade he was my new Principal. Now, the man who held that position before him was a mythic person. Like Sauron in The Lord of the Rings he was a presence often felt, but rarely seen. I’m not sure that, had I been forced to, I could have picked him out of a lineup and I’m almost positive that he had no idea who I was.
Mr. Foster, on the other hand, greeted me by name (first, middle, and last) out in front of the school that first morning and every morning after. Rain or shine he was there to open the car door and start my morning with a hearty “Good Morning Kimberly Marie Carrico, my neighbor!” I had lived down the street from him almost my entire life, but until that first morning I had never spoken to him and the fact that this very important adult knew my name (my name!) made me feel important too.
By the time I left his school I had read almost every book in the school library, I could multiply (sort of anyway) and divide, I knew the basics of US and World History, and my life long love affair of science had begun. I had learned a great deal about a lot of things, but the most important lessons I learned didn’t come from a book. He taught me about respect by showing respect to everyone. He taught me about responsibility by always taking responsibility for his actions. He even taught me to work hard by constantly being the hardest working person I knew (and the best whistler too).
But the most important thing I learned from him in my 3 years under his care was that, despite my young age, I was important. He was the first adult that spoke to me like I was his equal. He was the first adult to treat me like my opinions were just as valid as his. He was the first adult to make me feel like a person.
Over the years he was always there with a smile and a hand when I arrived at school. He never failed to buy a box of Girl Scout Cookies when I (or any other girl) came knocking. Every Saturday morning I knew to look for him washing his Corvette in his driveway and whistling away. And no matter when or where I saw him, he always spoke to me and called me by name. Always.
My favorite Mr. Foster story is from the summer after my Freshman year in college. A few of my new friends from school had come down for the weekend and I was taking them over to Mammoth Cave. I knew, due to the last minute nature of our trip and the fact that it was high summer, there was no way we were going to get tickets for a cave tour, but I figured we could at least walk down and look at the entrance to the cave. But first, we went into the Visitor’s Center to grab a couple of maps. Who did I find behind behind the information desk but Mr. Foster.
He, of course, greeted me by name, asked after my family, and then proceeded to question me about my first year at school. When he found out who my friends were, he insisted that they see the cave. After I explained that we didn’t have any tickets and all the tours for the day were sold out, he leaned over the counter and smiled. That was no problem he assured me, he was giving a tour in a few hours and if we met him outside then, he would take care of us.
And take care of us he did. We met him outside at the appointed time and he folded us into his tour group. We walked with the group down to the entrance to the cave and stood in line at the gate as the other guide took up tickets. When our turn came, Mr. Foster simply smiled at the guide (who was probably not much older than we were), patter his chest pocket, and said “I have these ladies’ tickets right here.” The other guide nodded his head and we walked in.
I have been to the Cave enough times to recite every tour along with the guide, but I had never been on a tour like that one. He picked on me, of course, because that’s what he did, but I didn’t mind. And my friends left the cave that day as much in love with it as he was. Once again he had made me feel special.
That was his gift. He made everyone he met feel special. Important. Loved. He was one of those rare people who seemed to have an infinite ability to love. And to know him was to be loved by him. Every child who passed through the door to his school (and their siblings and parents) became important to him. He learned their names. He learned their likes and dislikes. He took the time to get to know them. And by doing so, he made each and every one of them feel special.
Yes, the world lost a great man today. He wasn’t rich or famous, but the wealth he left behind him is priceless. Because he lived, an entire generation of children learned to see themselves as important. Because he lived, the world is a better place. And that is worth more than all the money in world.