“The coolest most amazing people I have met in my life are the ones who are not very interested in power or money, but who are very interested in laughter and courage and grace under duress and holding hands against the darkness, and finding new ways to solve old problems, and being attentive and tender and kind to every sort of being, especially children.” Brian Doyle
Last week I heard the news that Cecile Roth had passed, and I cried. As I write this, I weep. I know this is not how Cecile would wish me to begin this letter. Sorry, Cecile, but I am incredibly sad that you have gone. I hope that by writing this, I can come to a place of gratitude. But now, I weep.
I weep because one of the finest, most giving people I have ever known has left this mortal coil, and left us to do our best. I weep because the woman, the educator, who was such an important part of my children’s lives, who loved them and felt for them and protected them, is gone. And I weep because my dear colleague and mentor has left before I had the chance and the courage to tell her how much I loved her and how incredibly lucky I feel to have shared a table with her.
It’s hard not to write a chronology of the evolution of Cecile’s and my relationship, but I can’t help reflect on it now. I know though, that I speak for more people than myself in remembering Cecile, so I will speak, rather, of the incredible lady that I came to know in the eight years we worked together.
Cecile and I hit it off fairly early after my start at St. Croix Country Day. We shared a lot in common. She was from Buffalo, New York, and I grew up Hamilton, Ontario, only an hour drive from Buffalo. Both were working class, hard-scrabble cities. These were places where it was best to be tough; where human vulnerably was veiled; and where family came before all things. Cecile and I recognized these markings in each other.
My fondest recollection of Cecile is when I would sit in her office, or she in mine, and we’d talk. We both loved conversation and words (some of which were very colorful words … another trait we shared from our neighborhoods.) I will always cherish those chats. Beyond the mundane and often weighty discussions about school related issues (to which Cecile brought great wisdom), we talked about music and literature and our pasts and our passions. Cecile would share stories about her late husband Guy. When Guy came in to the conversation, her tone would turn a blend of muted grief and cheerful remembering. I never had the opportunity to meet Guy, but from all that I have heard from Cecile and my colleagues at GHCDS, he was a talented musician, a gifted teacher, a generous colleague, and an adoring husband and father. My understanding is that Guy had a wonderfully sardonic wit. In the midst of staff meetings, as he sat with others in the far corner of the room, he would whisper some scoffing observation about the proceedings, and a loud guffaw would rise from that corner of the room. Everyone knew, including Cecile, that Guy was responsible for the outburst. He was the love of her life, and her best friend.
Cecile would talk about her girls, Elizabeth and Catherine, with such pride (and some worry). While Cecile was never a person to boast of her own innumerable successes, she was gleeful when talking about the accomplishments of her girls. Elizabeth and Catherine were (and are) her greatest success, and it was abundantly clear that she would do anything for them. Cecile’s love for her girls is eternal.
I am so blessed to have known and worked with Cecile Roth. I say this with no sense of conceit: Cecile helped to make me a better educator, leader, and person. She taught me so much – of which she would never take credit. Her greatest lesson was that of patience. Lord knows, she graced me with her patience on many occasions. I would often charge into her office, aflame with fury, to rave about something or someone. I would throw myself into a seat, plant my two feet solidly on the ground, and clench the arms of the chair. Cecile would sit comfortable with her feet on her desk. She would simply sit and listen, and neither agree nor disagree. And when my flames had burnt down to a weaker ember, she would ask a few questions and offer a few rational and reasonable ideas. At first, of course, I would reject her ideas as “not sending a clear enough message.” And, again, she would talk me off the edge. So I would go back to my office, stew a bit more, and reflect on what she had said – and what she had not said; then I’d go back to her office and admit that she was right. We’d put our heads together to consider more humane and conciliatory ways to address an issue.
Cecile was one of the finest educators I have ever had the good fortune to work with. Her pedagogy began and ended with the welfare of her students. They were at the center of all that she did. No matter how busy she was with the routine tasks of a school administrator, she always made time to talk with students in need. Like any of the greatest teachers, the lessons that she taught outside of the curriculum are the lessons they will carry for a lifetime. To her colleagues, Cecile was an attentive and tender confidante, and a relentless advocate. Never having forgotten the challenges of being a classroom teacher, she did all in her power to provide them with the resources and encouragement they needed. She wanted them to find joy in their work.
I don’t think Cecile ever truly recognized or understood the remarkable impact that she had on the lives of those she touched. My prayer is that she does now. I will miss Cecile terribly. I will regret not having spoken to her more often after we parted ways. I will celebrate the privilege to which I have been graced to have known such a beautiful person as Cecile Roth.
Written in memoriam by William Sinfield