The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


January 15, 1998
8:00 PM

Irony and tragedy

Reference: The Beanstalk, a few days ago. The moral consequences of untimely and unavengeable death. Ironic connection: letter sent to The Swampscott Reporter today:

To the editor:

Swampscott is a poorer town tonight.

The news has come that the beloved Principal of Hadley School, Gary VanderEls, has died, just a few short weeks after we first learned he was ill with cancer. We had not yet gotten used to his absence from the sidewalk in front of the school in the morning, from its halls all day long, for what we hoped would be a brief period of convalescence and recovery. Now, parents and especially children must cope with the knowledge that Mr. VanderEls isn’t ever coming back.

No one who ever met the man, who saw him in action, whose child was inspired by his leadership, could question his unique place in his field. This was a principal who was legendary for his instant recognition of every pupil in the school, not only by name, but as a personal friend. To walk through the school with Mr. VanderEls was to witness a procession of friendly greetings: "Hi, Jimmy, how did the basketball go?" "Hey, Samantha, I liked your drawing." "Watch out there, Michael, you’ll bump your knee again." And the children always responded, with both respect and camaraderie. He was the personification of the old spelling memory trick: "The Principal is your Pal."

The heroes of our times are the wealthy (Bill Gates?), the athletically gifted (Michael Jordan?), or perhaps the distant statesman (Nelson Mandela?). But none of these people has the power to uplift the spirits of an entire community by embracing the minds of its most precious members. Gary VanderEls was a hero unsurpassed in Swampscott, whose like would be hard to find in any town.

We can continue to debate the "issues" of town education, how much money to spend on school buildings and programs, whether to raise taxes or cut budgets, how to set priorities. But as of tonight, Swampscott must now contend with a much greater deficit, that no amount of funding can replace -- a deficit of passion.


1998 David N. Townsend

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