Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Requiem for An Educator: In Memoriam James O'Keefe

Last night, the planet lost an extraordinary man. Last night, the world lost a teacher.

In a country that values superstars, and power, those prize fighters for justice, equal rights, and basic human decency often slip between the cracks. Those who devote their lives to informing, and encouraging, embracing, and inspiring our youth seldom find themselves in the big print of major newspaper obituaries.

But, when the planet loses a real teacher, the beauty of that life must be acknowledged, and celebrated.

Few understand that if there is salvation, it is in the simple things, like laughter, that it resides. James O'Keefe knew this instinctively, and he passed on this knowledge to all who were fortunate enough to call themselves his students. He passed on his acceptance of diversity, his appetite for discovery, his love for literature and, in the end, his love for life.

James succumbed to his battle with brain cancer. He was fifty, and only recently married. He was never bitter, never angry, not once, but always concerned with matters above and beyond himself.

Everything seems small compared to mortality, but some have been known to take death down a notch or two. James O'Keefe was one of them.

He was heroic in defense of equal pay, and parity, for part-time faculty. He was a man who wanted to do something good for those he leaves behind. For this, he was a hero to me.

I was honored to keep the seat in his office warm, this semester, his map of Ireland hanging across from my desk, and all things James everywhere.

In the short time I knew James, he wouldn't mind if I called him friend. He touched my life in ways that few ever have or ever will. He taught me that courage isn't the stuff of Hallmark cards, and that humor, even in the face of invincible, crazy death, is what keeps us human.

Oscar Wilde once said "I think that God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability;" not so when it came to James O'Keefe.