Pearl, I could have done better

On Sunday morning, March 12, I was talking with my long time educator friend, Bruce Watson. We were in the Welcome Center at our church catching up for a few minutes.

Bruce asked me if I remembered Pearl Clark. Pearl had been an assistant principal at Hermitage High School where I also served as an assistant principal. Prior to coming to Hermitage, Pearl had been an exceptional English teacher at Douglas Freeman High School.

Sadly, Bruce told me that Pearl had passed away on March 3. A visitation had been held on Friday, March 10, and a funeral service on March 11 at Good Shepherd Baptist Church.

I was floored at this news.

I couldn’t believe that I had missed Pearl’s obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The announcement had been in the paper on Thursday, March 9, and yet somehow, I skimmed right over the on-line listing in the paper. I was really angry at my carelessness.

As an assistant principal at Hermitage, we could not have had a better teammate. Pearl was everything that an assistant principal was supposed to be. She was fair, consistent, a good listener, diplomatic, gracefully supportive, a hard worker, a professional.

Additionally, Pearl was respected in the community—a role model, a person who always cared for the well-being of all.

In her fifty three years of marriage to her husband, Shady, they made a good pair. Shady’s work with the Virginia Department of Education and his leadership as a pastor for a local church complemented their giving personalities.

Pearl loved their daughter, Shanetia. She was always humbly proud of Shanetia’s academic accomplishments, earning a PhD, and becoming a tenured university professor.

One summer, I remember catching a ride with Pearl to a staff development program. It was quite a nice ride in Pearl’s four door Mercedes sedan.

When I left Hermitage to accept an appointment as principal at Lakeside Elementary School, if our students met their reading goal for the year, I always tried to do something wacky on the last day of school.

One year, Pearl, and Hermitage’s Director of Guidance, Casey Berry, showed up to watch my attempt to be a ballet dancer in a pink tutu. I was horrible up on that auditorium stage, but the students roared in laughter at my pitiful performance. That’s a good way to end a school year with laughter, better readers, and two loyal friends watching my foolishness.

As I began to tinker more with words, our first book, The Last Pumpkin, was developed. I asked Pearl if she would be willing to provide me an endorsement that would be featured on the back cover.

I was honored that Pearl accepted, and she wrote these perfect gentle words: “A timely autumnal reminder for all of us to acknowledge the positiveness in all children; they are all keepers.”

As an educator, wife, mother, sister, and friend, Pearl was a keeper too.

Unfortunately, the cruelness of Alzheimer’s disease wore Pearl down.

In the few brain cells that I have left, it seems extremely evil and heartless for Alzheimer’s to claim an educator. The brains of educators spend their careers remembering hundreds and thousands of names of students, parents, and staff members. Because of the depth of this recall, I would argue that God should issue a pass on Alzheimer’s attacking educators.

Since Pearl was a Deacon in her church, maybe she can make an appointment in Heaven with God and discuss this suggestion.

Pearl, I’m sorry I missed your obituary. I should have done better with that whole process. And, I apologize for not attending the visitation and funeral. Again, I could have done better.

I have good days and bad days when I read the Bible. Yet, there are some verses that I continue to hold deep inside my imperfect heart.

Pearl, when I ponder John 1, verse five, I think of you: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Alzheimer’s might have made the last days of your life dark for you and your loved ones, but its meanness could never overcome the light that Pearl Clark brought into this world.

When I see the sun rising in the East, the moon sparkle off a dark silent bay, a star streak across the Western sky, and the flicker of a candle reflect off a window pane, I will think of you, and the light you brought into this world.

Thanks for being my friend, and thanks for being a light to us all.

From left to right: Pearl Clark, Betsy Pike, Lauren Pike, Casey Berry.(Photo from a last day of school in the lobby of Lakeside Elementary School)

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