Friday, July 15, 2011

Mr. Rowe

Yesterday, on a whim, while thinking of my passion for writing, I googled my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Rowe at Sun Prairie High.  I honestly didn't expect to find anything.  I'd done it a few time over the past 20 years, but hope springs eternal in my case.  To my surprise, I found a blog entry posted by another of his students.  Apparently Mr. Rowe passed away earlier this year.  I posted a comment to his blog, and wanted to include it here as well:  Joey, Thank you for the tribute you've made to Mr. Rowe here in your blog. I hadn't realized he'd passed. You are so correct.  He made a difference, and he is remembered and loved by his students. 

I loved his writing classes and I'm sure my passion for writing is in part due to what was cultivated in his classroom.  I thought of him today out of the blue at the age of 43 and I was his student when I was 16.  That's a long time but I still remember the last time I saw Mr. Rowe like it was yesterday.  It's made an indelible imprint on me...the message he left with me that day. The passion with which he delivered that message was lost on me at the time, but years later how I wish I'd had the good sense to heed his plea.

You see, I didn't chose a career in writing, instead focusing on computer programming. For certain, I have made a successful and lucrative career of it. And I do enjoy a certain pleasure in my chosen profession. Yet I have regrets all these years later, that I abandoned my true passion, writing, for comfort and financial security. So now I dabble with the idea of writing, a novel perhaps, and wish I were back in Mr. Rowe's classroom learning and relearning the lessons which he taught with such passion.

The last time I saw Mr. Rowe was the first week of my Junior year. He walked up to me in the hall, while I waited for my next class to start.  He always had such a masterful presence, a show of authority, dignified, and somehow above the trivialities so rampant in high school life.  He wore that lovely tweed jacket of his with the leather patchwork elbows and held his portfolio in front of him as he confronted me. "Miss Edge, I'm looking at my class enrollment list and I don't see your name.  Why aren't you taking my advanced creative writing class?" 

I looked at him confused, not understanding why he was there and what it mattered that I wasn't taking his class. "I'm taking all the computer programming classes offered, so I didn't have any electives left to take your class," I explained with a look of utter confusion on my face, I'm sure.

Now I could see that he was mad and also, perhaps, frustrated.  This emotional display was so atypical of him with his rather stoic demeanor. He took a few seconds to regroup and then chastised me in an elevated tone, "As far as I'm concerned, you're flushing a perfectly good talent down the tubes."  He slapped his portfolio shut forcefully as he said this to elaborate his point.  Then he turned and stalked off down the hall.  I never talked to Mr. Rowe again. 

At the time, I didn't understand the significance of that interaction. But all these years later, I find myself thinking of that pivotal moment, when I could have stopped him and told him I didn't need to take that Pascal class or that Basic class so badly as all that. Could I be writing today professionally, had I listened to him, had I followed my true passion and not "sold out" for the money and security of a technology job? I'll never know the answer to that question; although, I will always remember Mr. Rowe coming to bat for me, an impassioned appeal to the good sense I did not yet possess. He recognized and valued that passion in me before I did myself. For that I am forever grateful.  Thank you, Mr. Rowe. You will always remain in my heart. May your hereafter be as fulfilling as your presence was to us, your students.


  1. I know all too well those pains of a path not traveled. Yet here I am at the age of 37, still looking down that long, scary road, willing my feet to walk that way rather than stay here, in comfortland. My heart and soul craves to live in this world, our world of words, stories and imagination. My mind says nope, stay safe. Do you think we'll obey? We aren't dead yet ya know Tracy! On a bad day I still allow my mind to begin that novel I will write one day. On a good day, I actually write a few sentences and post it here on the blog. Part success, right?

  2. Ainsley Rowe AndersonAugust 10, 2011

    As the youngest of Mr. Rowe's children I would like to say thank you for posting this tribute to my father. We all miss him like crazy. It helps our grieving tremendously to read how he influenced his students' lives. My father knew writing talent - and I'm glad he saw yours. Best wishes as you continue your career, and I hope your writing continues to grow.

  3. Thank you, Ainsley. My very best to you and your family.

  4. Tracy, I had the same whim today for some reason and tried to see if I could find any info about Mr. Rowe. I didn't know his age and part of me hoped to find that he was still in a classroom somewhere, although that would be a long shot--I graduated over twenty years ago. Your post really struck a chord with me. By high school, I was starting to realize that a traditional career path was probably not in the cards for me and I started to tune out. Mr Rowe always found ways to engage me and make me feel smart while the rest of the school seemed to write me off. I don't think he ever gave me a speech about wasting talent (not sure if there ever was any to waste) but just having someone recognize me for who I was at the time gave me confidence to be myself. My wife is a teacher and whenever she comes home after a bad day wondering if it is all worth it, I think of Mr Rowe. Great teacher and a great guy. Rest in Peace.