A friend - Dean Cole - left this world two days ago. He battled cancer giving it everything he had until he ran out of time and energy. His ending seemed to me like one of the few times in his life that he couldn't beat the odds. If anyone would ever have been able to live forever given enough strength and courage, it might have been Dean.
This quintessential educator was the head of the counseling office for all the years I taught in the Oregon City School District. He always had a small office which remained stunningly tidy no matter what huge project he was working on. When it was time to prepare the master schedule for the next academic year, he sometimes put butcher paper over his office window or used one down the hall that was even tinier and more restrictive than his. We all knew not to disturb him during this magical process. There were times, though, that I would stand outside his office praying that he'd have to go to the bathroom or something so that I could "accidentally" run into him and present an, "Oh, good, Dean. I have a quick question for you!" His rare inaccessibility sometimes just stopped me in my tracks when I was trying to problem solve something related to my job. I have to confess, though, that once in a while Sheila, my teaching partner, and I would push the door open just a smidge and if he wasn't there we'd sneak in for a quick peek at how our class assignments were coming along. Of course, he knew we were peeking so the information would be nil or the chart would be blank with all the news still stuck in his brain.
Dean made some runs at becoming an administrator but those goals didn't pan out for whatever reasons that are probably more complicated than any of us needs to know. But he always seemed like an administrator to me and I held him in the same kind of high regard that I held for the top principals I worked with. He was articulate, open-minded, totally trustworthy, and guarded secrets carefully. He knew life details about students and staff that never left his office without security clearance from his own personal sense of ethics. I took some of my stickiest professional problems to him and he always did two things: 1.) He pointed me in a direction that would help me solve the problem myself, and, 2.) He always had a way to make me feel better.
Dean was always turned out in office suitable attire with a casual, collegiate sort of twist. I always liked it when his hair had grown out from a fresh haircut because a new one always made him look just a little on the nerdy side. He had a busy man's hustling step and I remember that quick step carrying him down the few steps from the counseling office into the main office to check something. Lots of times he was never "right back" because he'd get waylaid by staff or student and would take a minute to say a reassuring word or make an appointment to see this or that person later.
He and his office compatriots made up a special sort of school group that had an invisible band of confidentiality wrapped around it that simply could not be penetrated by others. I used to wonder if Dean made new employees swear a secret oath of respect for privacy when they came to work in his department. I also wondered if Dean received secret training in how to show sympathy and empathy for the downtrodden, needy, whining, sniveling individuals that many staff members and students turned into at stressful times during the school experience. Those times might be the start of the school year, any days that had meetings scheduled, days that involved food and extra activities, grading time, report card time, fire drill days, weeks with lots of fights, days before and after holidays, spring scheduling and the end of the school year plus any days that involved a different schedule. You get the picture. And just imagine if YOU were the Head of the Department that counseled the complex travails of teenagers.
I will miss all the goodness of Dean Cole.