The King's Labor of Love - The Jose Vilson

The King’s Labor of Love

by Jose Vilson on September 30, 2008

in Jose

Who gets to say their real last goodbyes?

Late in August, right before school started, the week that my mentor and friend left to another school for a more prominent position as a math coach, one of the eternal spirits of the school, Mr. N, died, and in surprising fashion. With the vast changes in our school, Mr. N’s death rung like a four-alarm blaze across those who worked at the school presently and in the past. No one could have known that he would have passed on to another dimension, especially in light of his proclamations of “55/25!” so close to actually retiring and never reaching that age.

He was known as the “troublemaker,” an affectionate term for the feisty and cantankerous spirit in him. He’d tell stories of the battles he’s fought in his homeland, his excursions across the world by sea, by land, and by air, his decades of teaching, and often anyone within earshot of his voice knew that he wasn’t even telling us the half. The man demanded a certain attention only few mastered. His swagger and audacity often caused administration fits, children to run home and cry about the mean old science teacher, and fellow teachers to take a few steps back before approaching him.

Inside, though, and this became very evident once you spoke to him, he had the heart of a warrior. He was a true champion of the people, often standing up for the very teachers he’d fight with, and looking out for his most troubled students knowing that they could reach their full potential. Nothing was ever good enough for him, and he made sure the students knew that. His signature stroll in the hallway and thunderous growl could be heard in the hallways sent out the alarm that, yes, he was here, cane, daishiki, golden chains, and all. This king was not to be messed with.

He was a social delight, imparting his wisdom with anyone who wanted to share a drink with him, dancing with the prettiest women on the floor because he said so, and speaking his mind whenever he felt like it, and even principals just had to take it because they knew what he was about. He loved his job, and he fought even harder when he saw others fight just so they could be at peace.

And I’m still having a hard time reconciling his passing. I still expect the man to be there, and even on the train home with my girlfriend reminiscing about him, I was overcome with emotion and tears reminiscing on this African king. He brought many a man and woman to their knees, and embraced them just the same as part of his kingdom. He’s survived by wife and kids, yes, but also thousands of students whose lives he affected, who still scream his name when they see him years later on the street, and science labs that almost feel empty without him there.

Mr. N, your labor of love still reigns …

jose, who made sure I told people who I thought were doing a good job that they were …

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy Rosen September 30, 2008 at 5:20 pm

What a fitting post to start the new year with. Honouring, reflective, and with a promise for the future.

I’m getting ready for a Rosh Hashanah dinner at my grandfather’s and, let me tell you, now I need to wash my face and start over. You brought tears to my eyes – something about:

…he had the heart of a warrior. He was a true champion of the people, often standing up for the very teachers he’d fight with, and looking out for his most troubled students knowing that they could reach their full potential…

Sounds like he had the compassionate heart of a hero as well.

Tracy Rosens last blog do you still love teaching?


Hugh O'Donnell October 1, 2008 at 1:31 am

It’s tough to lose a professional colleague. Death is like a sudden collision with the future, and our teaching lives seem to be timeless and immune to the laws of nature. But they’re not, are they?

You’ve given your colleague some digital immortality, Jose. His bits will probably be bouncing around in some server after the pyramids are dust. ;)

Hope someone does that for me.

Hugh O’Donnells last blog post..Happy Camper!


The Urban Scientist October 2, 2008 at 4:06 pm

would you be interested in participating in DonorsChoose?

The Urban Scientists last blog post..Presidential Candidates Stand on Science


Luz Maria October 6, 2008 at 7:24 pm

King Ike was truly an amazing man as a colleague, friend, teacher, and a human being. He shared his wisdom and embraced the newbies to the school. I have many memories of this man but the one I cherish the most is when he spoke to me on apersonal level . He approached me and shared the wisdom he had acquired with age and life experience when I was going through a very difficult moment. I don’t think I ever told him the effect those words had on me and how they gave me inner strength as I continued to move forward. There was always a smile on his face and he had one of those jokes that sometimes I could not decipher. When I was assigned to teach science one year, I hesitated but Ike told me not to worry because he already knew that I was a good teacher and I would not disappoint him. An educator of his stature to compliment me in this manner made me feel extremely humble and at the same time I began to take more chances in the classroom. Thank you Ike.

He is dearly missed.


Jose October 6, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Thank you all for your contributions to this post. I’m sure it means a lot to him.


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