Tuesday, December 31, 2013

William Gary (1967 - 2013)

William Gary was sitting at the security desk of 66 West 12th Street, eating dinner from a Tupperware container the last time I saw him. He looked up at me with his usual beaming smile and then extended his strong hands out to mine to greet me with a sincere handshake and wholesome pat on the back. William Gary was a strong man, who seemed to radiate enough strength and assurance to pick others up, he inspired us and gave us a reason to smile and feel good about coming to work and school. He made everyone at the New School feel welcomed and respected. 

“Have a great holiday Gary. You spending it with your son?” I asked.
“Sure am.” The doting father of a 10-year-old-son said smiling and waving at me for one last time… 

A week later, William Gary, 46, would (according to the Free Press) “suffer from a neck injury while lifting weights. The injury led to an allergic reaction to his medical treatment.” 

When we all returned from the Thanksgiving break, it was the bad news of William Gary’s death that welcomed us back to The New School, a grim replacement to Will's infectious smile and hearty laughter. For the first few weeks, the lobby was filled with tears, somber faces and hugs. The memorial table would blossom with flowers, cards and candles. Before Will's funeral, The administration of the university set up a GiveForward Memorial fund to help support his son. 

The outpouring of emotions and gratitude to this great man’s life, exemplify how important it is to always treat each other with civility, decency and respect. William Gary escorted students into the building when they may have needed assistance, he got to know our names and faces - rarely needing to ask anyone for their identification. As New School President, David Van Zandt stated in an email to the university, “William Gary exemplified what it means when we talk about ‘community.’ 

As we recall back on this year of 2013 in which we lost our dear friend, William Gary, we should try our best to continue living up to his positive and empowering example.

We miss you Will. With love and light to your son and family. 

Richard Wortman Jr. (1929 - 2013)

Richard Wortman was born into the Great Depression and grew up through the Second World War. As a young man, he became a member of the 101st Airborne Infantry in the Army during the Korean Conflict. Needless to say, Richard Wortman knew a thing or two about frugality and efficiency. “Waste not, want not” were words he often reminded boys of assigned to student home “Union” at the Milton Hershey School. Mr. Wortman (as we were expected to call him) taught us a lot – respect, character, accountability and manners. 

When I met Richard Wortman, I was an adolescent with an entitled chip on my shoulder and little respect for authority or rules. I thought, like many boys, only narcissistically about myself. I also (foolishly…) thought I could get around Mr. Wortman and his pesky rules; however, what I didn’t fully recognize at the time was that Wortman had already dealt with hundreds of punks like me – I was nothing new to him or his wife, Margaret, who had been house parents at the Milton Hershey School for over two decades.

Although I only lived in Mr. Wortman’s “Union” house for a couple years before he and Marge retired to their home in Middletown, I learned many valuable life lessons from them: hard work, honesty, discipline. I recall that Mr. Wortman would wake us every morning for chores at 5 a.m. His shoes were already on, shined and sparkling, like his eyes, which even at that early hour were also alert and vigilant to our every move. Or, “non-moves” for that matter - during chores, Wortman patrolled Union house to ensure none of us were derelict of our duties (e.g., taking a nap instead of cleaning the shower stalls.) 

Some might have called Mr. Wortman a bit of a “ball-buster” in that he was tough as nails and had no patience for nonsense or bullshit. Some may say that Mr. Wortman “gave us too much work and chores... Don’t you remember him making us do yard work on his new retirement home in Middletown?” I do recall working on yard work at Mr. Wortman’s home; however, I also recall him paying us for that work (modestly of course, but enough to ensure we recognized the value of an hour of our time and energy.) I also remember him driving us to the movies, buffet restaurants, the mall, etc.    

Mr. Mortman also knew how to have fun and had a sense of humor (usually safe, but too often, embarrassingly  about one’s heritage, e.g., Polish, Puerto Rican, etc.) Needless to say when Wortman wasn’t taking us on some sort of adventure, he would be sharing stories and jokes from his life at dinner. While listening to those stories around the table, I learned about respect and that our time spent around a table could be shared as a family (no matter whom you sat besides.) Of course, for many of us at the Milton Hershey School, this was our family. 

I remember the moment my opinion of Mr. Wortman changed from being a “ball-buster” to a leader: it was when I saw this strong and seemingly unbreakable man break – Mr. Wortman cried. When I saw him cry it was because “his boys” had failed him. (I will not go into the details of the situation itself, but it entailed some boys in our house being expelled for bullying.) When I saw Mr. Wortman cry, I realized that just below the tough shell was a man with much experience who truly cared about our future. He wanted us all to be great men and spent his life ensuring that this “next generation” would be as strong as his “the greatest generation.” Yes, he held us boys up to some high expectations, but they were fair and just ones that our world would do well to uphold.

Mr. Wortman wasn’t perfect (and of course who is?...) but he was a disciplined leader who loved his family (whom my condolences are with) and hundreds of boys whom he influenced and guided throughout his life. Richard Wortman’s memory and example will live on through the lessons he taught us all.

MHS, Union ‘97