Samantha Sadd

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One man “drove so far, from God knows where, just to tell me how she turned his life around… And he kept saying, ‘She got me to ski.'”

 

Samantha Sadd taught generations of children “about the city and beyond” with field trips, subway rides, and salad-making lessons. She led the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center, which several of my students frequent.

Sadd was not the surname she was born with; she declined to offer explanations for the change. My students came up with their own theories, including this one, which I think is pretty good: “Maybe she wanted to take in all the sadness and give out happiness.”

They also came up with their own allegorical surnames, including this one, which I think is unimprovable: Nate Reflex.

Ms. Sadd’s Boston Globe obituary describes a remarkable and admirable woman, the sort for whom the designation “pillar of the community” is exactly suitable. This teacher also likes her obituary because it demonstrates why background knowledge is essential to reading comprehension. For example, a 6th grader might understand each of the following words, yet risk alarmed confusion: “[S]he was a whiz at handicapping racehorses,” her sister said.

 

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Mark Fidrych

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It was rough becoming a Red Sox fan in the 1980s. I sought solace in literature, namely baseball biographies. That’s how I learned of Mark Fidrych.

Even to a child it was obvious that Fidrych was singular. But it was by reading posthumous tribute that I learned how much so: writer Paul Auster calls Fidrych “perhaps the most lovable person ever to play the game.”

If you don’t know much about him, read some of the pieces here (don’t neglect Joe McNally’s).

Fidrych’s pitching arm was prematurely damaged, but his graciousness and cheer remained unscathed:

“What I got out of baseball is what I have today, and I’ve got to look at that… I got a great life now,” he said, sitting in his living room. “I got a family, I got a house, I got a dog. I would like my career to have been longer, but you can’t look back. You have to look to the future.”

Carney Lansford, a former Red Sox third baseman (I can still recite the 1982 lineup) eulogized him well:

“I don’t think you’ll ever see someone like that come around again… He was just great for the game. That’s what the game needed, more guys like him.”

There isn’t a game around that doesn’t need more guys like Mark Fidrych.

 

 

Alex

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“You be good,” said Alex. “I love you.”

 

Alex, who found a home at Brandeis University, also claimed a perch on some of the more exclusive real estate in print: the obituary page of the Economist. “Science’s best known parrot,” they called him. Today my 6th graders read another one of his many obituaries.

Lest this sound like a belated April Fools joke, let me assure you that Alex was a real, and indeed rare, bird. He had the intelligence of a (human) five-year-old and a vocabulary of over one hundred words. According to his Wikipedia entry, “[h]e was the first and only non-human animal to have ever asked an existential question.” His death at age thirty-one was especially tragic: the typical African Grey parrot’s lifespan is twice that.

We read Alex’s obituary on the final day of the new state English tests, which take 225 minutes over three days. I expect my students have his sympathy: “After repeating some learning trials dozens of times, Alex would become tired and throw objects off the trays with his beak.”

 

Kip Tiernan

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Kip Tiernan founded America’s first homeless shelter for women. She named it Rosie’s Place, believing everyone needs a rose.

Mary Moon Wilson taught my students maternal, Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy taught us fraternal, and with Ms. Tiernan’s obituary we learned sorority. Her purview, however, was humanity: she also helped found the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, the Greater Boston Food Bank, and Boston’s Emergency Shelter Commission.

“The lives she saved were untold,” Mayor Tom Menino said.

 

 

Michael Kennedy & Edward Walsh

 

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Lieutenant Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy died fighting a fire in Boston on March 26, 2014.

Mr. Walsh was a devoted family man and youth athletics coach; Mr. Kennedy was an Iraq veteran and Big Brother mentor. Public service doesn’t just indicate their employment, it describes how they chose to live.

“Eddie lived more in 43 years than many of us will do in 80,” his sister said. Mr. Kennedy’s 33 years brim with life as well: “Michael never met a high school he couldn’t be expelled from,” according to his mother.

Today kids can pretend to drive firetrucks at a playground refurbished and renamed in their honor. It’s where Mr. Walsh brought his own children, and where Mr. Kennedy played as a child.

 

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(Photo credits: Firemen’s Memorial – Hantsheroes; Lt. Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy Tot Lot – City of Boston)

 

Mary Moon Wilson

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“Well, why don’t we take in some of these girls and see if we can’t give them a better home and turn them around.”

 

Mary Moon Wilson founded and ran two group homes in Boston: one for runaway teenage girls, the other for mentally challenged adults.

According to her Boston Globe obituary, she “rescued and raised maybe 1,000 children.” One of them – using a literary device we learn, understatement – said: “They don’t make too many folks like Mary Wilson.”

The obituary offers the vocabulary commendation, maternal, and haven. And savvy, too, which Ms. Wilson demonstrates here:

She was able to get employment at the Pentagon as a cryptographer by inflating her resume, saying she was able to speak several different languages (knowing only the English language) but the interviewer did not ask her to speak any of the languages she claimed to know and eventually got the job.