Memories of Al Myers (4/30/09)

April 30, 2009

The unexpected death of Williston Central School teacher Al Myers, who fell from a ladder while working on the set of the school’s “Wizard of Oz” production last week, brought forth an outpouring of emotion from family, friends and students.

The first letter below comes from Myers’ youngest daughter, Meredith Gordon, who was gracious enough to share thoughts about her father in an e-mail to the Observer.

More quotes follow from other people touched by Myers at one point or another in their lives.

 

Wow, where to begin about my dad, my dad was one of my best friends. He and I had the same quirky sense of humor and everyone who knew him, knew him to be a very upbeat person who would always look on the bright side of things. Dad and I would play pup quiz at Ri Ra's together with a bunch of my other friends. I remember how scared we would always get until dad came because my dad was so knowledgeable about so many different things that we wouldn't have a chance of winning unless dad was there.

My dad lived every day to the fullest and I know that's a clichéd statement but it's really true about my dad. When dad woke up every morning, he would be sitting at the table eating breakfast with a book open in front of him. He would carry on a conversation without skipping a beat, be eating and reading the same time. The book was normally about the Civil War or it was his Bible which we had to replace over the years from so much use.

“As many people knew my dad had a great sense of humor. You couldn't be round him for more than five minutes without him making you laugh in some way. I remember when my husband was first coming over to the house to pick me up for a date and he was meeting mom and dad for the first time. My dad came up from the basement with his Civil War rifle and said the he was planning on coming to the door with it when Andy knocked. He could make me laugh even when I was feeling my lowest and gave the best hugs. I'm really going to miss those.

Dad was also such a great teacher. My brother and I each had him as a teacher for fifth and sixth grade and I remember thinking how cool it was that I got to see him in his element. The classroom and the theater were really my dad's elements. He loved watching a student's face when he knew that they were finally understanding how something worked. He loved coming into the classroom full of students and teaching. He would get to school very early every morning just so he could be prepared for the day. He needed that quiet time in the morning to collect his thoughts and get organized, that's how important teaching was for him. He wanted everything to be right for this students. His school family was his second family and he knew each of those students as well as he knew us. I remember him on numbers of occasions driving long distances just to see one of his students, would had graduated, perform in a play or do a concert. It meant so much to him to see his students succeed and so many students did under his mentoring.

One thing, however, that not many people knew about my dad was how shy he was. You would never know it to talk to him, but I remember having so many conversations with him about meeting new people and how I was feeling scared. He would say, "I remember when it was terrifying for me to even order food at McDonalds because I had to talk to someone I didn't know." But I found through the years of watching him and then learning from him, if you can get someone to laugh with you then you have a friend and they no longer are a stranger.

Wow, this is going a lot longer than I had intended, but I guess it's hard for it not to when your talking about a man who had so many wonderful qualities. But my favorite memories of my dad will always be our trips to North Carolina. I got to go on three trips with him there. My grandmother would go with us with other family members and we would all stay at this little condo on the beach. We would always have a lot of fun during the day splashing in the waves of course and eating fried food. But at night, at least one time over trip, my dad and I would walk down the beach together, just the two of us. The beach was always quiet and there were hardly any people left. It was then that my dad and I would talk, talk in really only ways a father and daughter could. He would ask me about my life and whether or not I was happy. We would talk about spiritual beliefs and funny times when we were kids. I learned about what it was like growing up in the Ethan Allen Club, that my grandfather managed when my dad was a boy. I saw my father not only as my father, during those walks but as a person, just like me, still trying to figure out life. My dad, as many know, was compassionate and gave of himself to so many people. But in those quiet nights in North Carolina, when it was starry out and there was miles of sand in front of us and nothing to do but walk, when it was just my father and I and no one else around, those are the moments I'm really going to miss. The moments that can only really happen between a father and a daughter.

Meredith Gordon, daughter

 

•    Mr. Myers was my fourth and fifth grade teacher in 1976-78. The first thing that has always come to my mind in remembering him since then is how happy he was the day he left class because his first daughter was about to be born.

He taught me how to write a research paper, why we should look out for stereotypes and prejudices, how to assemble a cat skeleton, divide a circle into parts, and get people to listen to you and be convinced by what you have to say even if you're not very loud. Also several reasons why it's probably very difficult to be a caribou, and all the words to "Leaving on a Jet Plane."

Most of that knowledge is still very useful.

Marjorie Dickstein, former student

 

•    Mr. Myers was definitely one of the most influential teachers I've ever had. He inspired me to audition for plays and musicals even though I was incredibly shy. There was never a dull moment. So many amazing performances. This is definitely the end of an amazing era for Williston Central School. You'll always be remembered, and greatly missed.

Ashley Robinson, former student

 

•    (Al) and I were there, working on the sets together many, many nights. He just loved to work there. I remember he would put that Civil War music on while we were working and just blast it. He’d be singing along as loud as he could. He knew all the words.

Mike Frisbie, parent of students, friend and fellow Civil War reenactor

 

•    My family is really just a tiny fraction of a huge and very blessed community that has been touched by Al's selfless generosity with his gifts, wisdom and uncommon humanity. It is perhaps not as difficult for us as it is for those who are suffering the immediate loss. The difference is that we've had the benefit of time and a bit of distance to reflect on just how profound Al's impact has been. It is immeasurable, and therefore his passing all the more tragic from our perspective. Those Swifties and members of the cast who are reeling from the loss of Al in their everyday lives right now have not yet begun to realize the enduring nature of his influence on their lives. Once you know Al Myers, you do not forget Al Myers.

Lori Jean, parent of student and friend

 

•    Mr. Myers got me started with theater as my teacher and director just before the Swift House days. Years later when I actually got to share the stage with him at the Flynn Theater, I was star struck. I was up there with Mr. Myers — that unmistakable voice, that presence, that mustache! He has created so many great memories, from the plays to the sing-alongs to the time he thrilled the whole class with his perfect auctioneer performance at the Box Lunch Social. How many others have the privilege of experiences like that in their childhood? How many others can point to such a warm, funny, smart, unique influence on their lives? What a tragedy that no more kids will get that chance. Mr. Myers, you're a hero to me. You touched so many people over the years, and we're all better for having you in our lives.

James Blanchard, former student

 

•    I was always entertained by him, especially when he taught. Perhaps that’s why he was such a great teacher.

Nick Jean, former student

 

•    If you ever wondered what a perfect teacher looked like, all you would have to do is meet Mr. Myers. He has a way of making you at ease in any situation. His sense of humor and his commitment to his students and to theatre are just some of his many amazing attributes. He brought so much energy and passion and humor to everything he did that school never seemed like an obligation but an exciting adventure. Like the time we studied fruit flies! For some reason I have always remembered that experiment, coming in each day to check your container and see how the fruit flies just kept multiplying right before your eyes. I will never forget you Mr. Myers and all that you have done. A piece of my heart broke today. Sometimes life just isn't fair.

Kristina Bechard, former student

 

•    He was the heart of the whole theater program. He got kids to do things they’d never thought they’d do. He inspired kids and I know they inspired him.

Stephen Mease, parent of students and friend