The Office of Life Improvement: The Life of Becky Goshorn

On Monday, March 7, the recorded high temperature in Richmond, Virginia where we live hit 81 degrees.

Five days later on Saturday, March 12, those warm temperatures were gone.

That Saturday morning, I met a team of volunteers at our church. Their task was to remove old carpet from the church’s parlor, and to use a special fabric to recover the worn speaker screens in the Sanctuary.

By midday, we were finishing the chores. The cold rain that had been pelting down all morning had changed over to snow. With the falling temperatures and gusty winds, the snow managed to repaint the landscape.

Snow covered front lawn at Trinity UMC March 12, 2022 photo by Bill Pike

Early on the morning of Sunday, March 13, I arrived at church to make sure that sidewalks and steps weren’t icy. Turns out we were clear of ice, but we had a couple of other challenges.

The still relatively young steam boiler that heats the Sanctuary did not want to start. Luckily, an experienced technician from the HVAC company that services our building persuaded the cantankerous boiler to fire up.

Later that morning, I was summoned to a newly renovated Kids Church classroom. A heating radiator in one corner of the room had decided to leak. Before I could spew out a hot hissing line of harsh words, I caught myself—there are children in this room.

Once, the class was over, I pulled up the wet carpet tiles. I wrapped a towel around the suspicious pipe dripper, and aimed a box fan on to the damp concrete sub-floor.

Just before, the start of the 11 a.m. worship service, we received notification that a long time member (who was loved by all) was taking her last breaths courtesy of a crummy intruder—cancer.

Later that afternoon at home, our friend, Pat Rollison, called. She had some more disturbing news. Our mutual friend and educator, Becky Goshorn, had passed on Saturday.

This news about losing Becky tugged at my heart.

Becky had been an outstanding math teacher at Hermitage High School in Henrico County. Hermitage is where I also landed after teaching four years in Martinsville. And after we both retired, our paths crossed again as we worked with the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Improvement.

Becky and I were part of teams that visited schools in Virginia who were struggling to find success with the state’s Standards of Learning tests. Again, Becky was an excellent teammate with her expertise in math helping the teachers in these schools retool with practical instructional strategies and techniques.

We were also part of a group of Virginia educators who worked with teachers in the Department of Corrections schools. These incarcerated students had no exemption from the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.

For Becky’s children, Anne and Jack, losing their mother was an untimely challenge. Just six months earlier on September 17, 2021, they had dealt with the unexpected passing of their father, Larkin.

Becky was in her second battle with cancer. By all accounts, she was making progress.

I know that I will not be lucky enough to make it to heaven, but if by some miracle I sneak into the pearly gates, my first question to God will be this—“If a person pushed cancer out of his/her body once, why in the world should a woman, man, or child have to endure another wretched round of this awful disease?”

Monday, March 21, was a pretty spring afternoon. A visitation was held for family and friends to honor Becky. The setting was perfect. The clubhouse for the recreation center allowed guests to mingle inside and outside. My wife and I saw many of our education colleagues, and we met Anne and Jack.

Even though, I was not a math major, in Becky’s obituary, I counted at least nine community and professional organizations that Becky helped during her lifetime.

Combine those organizations with her career in public schools, and there are multiple opportunities for storytelling about Becky.

Here is a Becky story from our work with the Office of School Improvement.

I was preparing for a school review in northern Virginia. At the last minute, a team member had to bow out. I called Becky who was in another part of the state finishing a review.

I asked if she would consider filling the math spot on the team. With no hesitation, she agreed to pinch hit.

But, she did have concern. Becky like me had been living out of a suitcase. Becky was worried that she might not have enough clean underwear to finish out the week.

I have never forgotten that story for many reasons. First, her humor, but more importantly this was an example of her loyalty, dedication, and heart.

A teacher can’t survive in public education without a heart, and Becky had a heart. Just ask her family, former students, co-workers, and community.

Recently, I listened to an interview on the NPR show Fresh Air with Frank Bruni. Bruni has written a book, The Beauty of Dusk. The book chronicles his journey of losing sight in his right eye due to a unusual stroke that impacted the optic nerve.

In the interview, these words from Bruni caught my attention:

But after going through a period of shock and terror, Bruni saw himself at a decision point: He could fixate on what had been lost, or he could focus on what remained. He chose to do the latter.

“I feel like once you’ve recognized what’s happened, … it is so important and so constructive and so right to focus instead on all the things you can still do, all the blessings that remain,” he says. “I ended up determined — determined to show myself that I could adapt to whatever was going to happen.” (NPR Fresh Air 3/22/22)

Frank Bruni’s words make me think of Becky’s children, Anne and Jack. They must be in shock having lost both parents so quickly.

I hope Anne and Jack sense in Bruni’s comments that Becky always did in life what he suggests.

Despite the cancer, Becky constructively focused on all the things she could still do. She knew her blessings. She was determined to adapt to whatever was going to happen.

In her obituary, Becky offered the best advice to us all—“live life to the fullest because it is shorter than you think.”

Becky’s work in the Office of Life Improvement is an example of what one person can do to make a community better.

Whether she recognized her skills or not, Becky understood and embraced three lines of scripture from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

“To everything there is a season, and time for every matter under heaven: a time to build up, a time to speak, and a time to love.”

Becky’s talents helped to build up many community organizations.

She understood the importance of using her voice to speak up for the good of the cause.

And most importantly, she loved even in life’s difficult moments.

In the time I have left on this earth, I hope I can follow Becky’s example.

We will miss you, Becky.

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