The King’s Labor of Love

Jose Vilson Education, 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 …