We called him Gorgeous George, but not to his face. We may have been idiots, but not complete idiots. It was a moniker born of adolescent respect (and his penchant for pale blue leisure suits) with no malicious intent. That respect was based upon the singular characteristic of the man that was obvious to anyone who met him, one that was especially clear to teenagers who can root out a fake like a hog can a truffle. George Madelen looked for, and found, the good in everyone.
Mr. Madelen was principal at Hutchinson High School during the 1970’s. From 1974-1976 he had in his charge a supercilious gang of knuckleheads set on pushing every button and crossing every boundary that a high school could throw at them. Yet he was never angry, always professional, and had such an obvious love of students that even when he doled out punishment it was impossible to be angry with him. He pushed us, pulled us, and did everything he could to help us find the good in ourselves.
Mr. Madelen died last month at the age of 88. At the funeral his family told wonderful stories about how he affected their lives. I wonder if they know how many hundreds of students their father and grandfather also affected in a positive way. He lived a long life and helped so many people along the way.
Mr. Madelen would have been in his mid to late 40's when I was a sixteen year old Salthawk. That's about the same age as the executive director of the Oklahoma Association of School Boards when he was taken from us last fall. Like Mr. Madelen, Jeff Mills was a college athlete who came to education as a teacher and coach. He was a high school principal, superintendent, and finally executive for OASB. While he was taken in the prime of his life, he shared so many characteristics with my principal Mr. Madelen. Mainly, he saw the good in people and helped them see it in themselves.
Jeff was a trusted colleague who cared about students. He was an example to me of how one tolerates politics as a necessary evil to help students. Jeff was taken too soon, while Gorgeous George lived a full life. Something about that doesn't seem fair, but Jeff never complained and wouldn't now if he could.
There is a lesson here for all of us. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, so we have to do all the good we can today. Rest in peace gentlemen, you were both a role model for me and hundreds of others. Educators, live your lives in such a way that someone will write similar words about you someday.