Editor's Note: On Monday, we ran Part 1 of Kathy Stahlman Zinn's column remembering Ben Murphy, who taught at Summit Lane Elementary School. Today's Part 2 reflects on Kathy's interactions with Mr. Murphy following her days at Summit Lane.
Jo Ann and I, and perhaps others, were mentored by him for years. Following sixth grade, we would walk across the field from Division Avenue High School after school and sit on the old desks, chatting with him. During that time, he helped each of us choose our paths through high school and college, supporting our girlhood friendship, yet noticing and appreciating our differences. From our discussions of current events and politics, it was clear that he lived his life according to his values and beliefs. He encouraged us to do the same.
In 1967, he set out to fulfill a dream of both his and his wife Terry's. The whole family, including four sons aged 4-13, moved to La Paz, Bolivia for what was to be a two-year leave of absence, so he could teach at the American Cooperative School. It was to be a great adventure, and it was just that, according to his family, until March of the following year, when he suddenly came down with severe food poisoning. The family left for home and Terry was admitted to the VA Hospital in Brooklyn. Despite the efforts of American medicine, his illness overwhelmed his body.
At this time, one of our former classmates, 22-year old medical student Charlie Kawada, learned of his illness and came to the hospital. "I just had to tell him how important he was to me,” he said, “that he had been the most influential teacher I'd ever had." Mr. Murphy died the day before his 42nd birthday, leaving not only his family in grief, but his shocked colleagues, students and friends as well.
Never able to get Mr. Murphy out of my mind, in 2007 I was able to meet Terry and their sons, now in their forties and fifties. I learned more about him as a person, and they learned about him as a teacher and mentor from me. Ken, his second son, has spent his career as a public school teacher and currently works for the East Meadow schools. He was thrilled and amazed to learn that in 1956, his father's activities in the Levittown Education Association were deemed a "plus" sign in a letter of recommendation for tenure by then principal Andrew Donnelly. "My Dad got praised for his union work by his principal," said an incredulous Ken, an avid teacher's union member. I said I doubted the LEA was anything but a "professional organization" at that time.
What I gained the most from my time with this wonderful man was the conviction that all people, regardless of their backgrounds, are to be valued and learned from. He lived this belief out and his life was the greatest lesson he taught.
As always, you can read columns like this one at Frank Barning's blog, located at http://theworldaccordingtofrankbarning.blogspot.com.