We’ve all met unforgettable people in our lives. Some were great in their fields. Some were just people we loved or who had a certain something that drew us to them. This is about one of the unforgettable people in my life.
Judy Truelson was our principal when I was in kindergarten, and he was about ten feet tall. Okay, only six feet six, but hey, kindergartners are small.
Although I was rarely scared or intimidated by anyone, this man had a presence that made all of us cower in corners, and I was just like the rest. Until I got to know him, that is.
Somehow my mother and dad began to be friends with Judy and his wife Louise soon after I started to school. In fact, it may have started sooner, since my sister Barb started at this school two years before I got there. Anyhow, the four of them began playing bridge together, and by the summer after I finished the second grade our families were close enough to take a vacation together. That story will show up in my “Places” blog soon.
By the time we got home from that vacation, Judy was no longer an intimidating presence in my life. I knew him as the father of one of my friends and knew a little of his personality—as much as a kid that age can know an adult’s personality—and I found him to have a great sense of humor and a delightful ability to tell stories on himself.
Actually, I never knew him again as a principal, because he was promoted that summer from our elementary school to a high school across town. That was the beginning of his unrelenting rise in the school system, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.
One of the great stories Judy told on himself involved a bonfire the students at this high school built before a football game. The fire was going but not well, so one of the kids started to toss some gasoline on it. Not wanting the kid to be burned, Judy stopped him and said he’d add the gasoline because it had to be done carefully. As he doused the fire, flames shot up the stream of gasoline and burned his hand and arm. The burns weren’t serious, but as he told the story later he stood there wishing it would burn his stupid arm off. Funnier somehow when he told it.
In 1955 the Truelsons and the Conners (see blog on Uncle Willy) and my family built a cabin together in Ute Park, NM. Actually, Judy and his son John did most of the building. Dad and I (well, I passed him tools) did the electrical wiring. Bill Conner put in most of the money. We went there for a week every summer—usually the last three days of the Truelsons’ visit, then a day to ourselves, and then three days with the Conners.
The first time I pulled up a chair to watch Mother and Dad and the Truelsons play bridge, Judy asked me if I knew about Deaf Smith. He explained that he was a scout who managed to get information from the enemy by pretending to be deaf. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “You can watch us play as long as your name is Deaf Smith.”
My dad served on the Forth Worth school board from 1956 to 1968. One of the first things he did was get Judy promoted from principal to assistant superintendent. Then later to associate superintendent, and finally, just before leaving the board, to superintendent. Not that Dad used undue influence to help a buddy. Judy was well qualified for each promotion, but it helps to have an advocate.
Judy was the last home-grown, internally promoted superintendent we’ve had, and in my opinion we’ve suffered because of that. Hired gunslingers are looking to build their resumes. Home-grown administrators are looking to serve the district they’ve loved and spent their lives in.
The last time I saw Judy was at my mother’s 80th birthday roast. He would have been 83 at that time, and he’d lost a son and a wife, but he was still his old self. He got into the spirit of the roast with a story or two from their times together.
He wasn’t as big as he was that first day in kindergarten—at least not as I stood almost even with him—but he was still a larger-than-life presence.
Ø Who are some of your unforgettable characters?
Ø How have some or all of these people affected your life?
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