George Awsumb died this week. He taught at Darlington School for many decades; I was lucky enough to have him as a teacher when I was in 9th grade in 1986. He was a great man and someone I revered. Memories of people like George — men and women who had a monumental influence on me as a young person — are a large part of why my love for my alma mater remains strong to this day.
Below is a letter I wrote on the occasion of his retirement from Darlington in 2009. I’m embarrassed that it is in parts far more about me than George, but it was written with affection and respect.
April 13, 2009
I am sorry I won’t be able to attend the official send-off for George and Betsy in May, but I did want to take the occasion to express my gratitude for their guidance and friendship over these many years. Perhaps unbeknownst to him, George was a mentor for me at a time when I was in desperate need of one, and I am glad this event has given me an excuse to thank him for it publicly.
It was, after all, George who cast me (a wholly annoying 7th-grader) as Randolph McAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, not to mention bum #3 in Annie and boy-who-received-box-of-maple-syrup-on-his-birthday in The Music Man. I also played some part in Adaptation, but I can’t remember which. Had I known 7th grade was to be the pinnacle of my artistic output, I might have given “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” a little extra gusto. [Incidentally, David Powell never cast me, probably because the plays he chose were too dark or cynical for a middle schooler who could only hit one note – enthusiasm! When I have nightmares, they feature Enger McCartney and Pete Hobert in Wait Until Dark.]
Afternoons in the Zelle drama room were heady indeed for someone as callow as I was. I fell in love with every female member of each cast as long as she was 1) hopelessly too old for me or 2) hopelessly out of my league, two criteria that often intersected quite neatly. [Forgive the digression, but Shawna Dunderville, my flame still burns brightly for you, just in case you’re wondering – and that jar of cherries was more metaphor than joke.] Despite my romantic shortcomings, and thanks entirely to George, I became friends with (or at least the mascot of) the likes of Tim Harrison, Bates Redwine, Enger McCartney, Catherine A., Marisa Gaba, and Hal Word – heroes to me then, and still. They had their work cut out for them:
Catherine: Listen to this new R.E.M. album [Reckoning]. You need to love it.
Lee: I’m sure I will. And I brought you the new Kenny Loggins.
The image of that crew feverishly studying slides outside his classroom is etched in my brain. George made it cool, and edgy, to appreciate art – a lesson not lost on me. I wasn’t lucky enough to take his AP Humanities course, but I did get to take his Cinema class, which was mind-blowing. I remember we studied Star Wars, The Turning Point, and Paths of Glory, among others. If my own students remember anything we read twenty-three years afterwards, I’ll consider it a major victory.
Finally, there is Scholar Bowl…and the time the Darlington B team almost upset the A team at Berry College (which, if memory serves, would’ve knocked them out of the championship round) if not for the fact that I answered the last question incorrectly. If there is uncertainty out there, the final resting place of Noah’s Ark is actually Mt. Ararat, not Mt. Arafat. I remember looking right at George when I answered it – did I see a ghost of a smile? I am still haunted by that gaffe, and Paul Wang has undoubtedly been plotting a particularly nasty revenge lo these many years.
Looking back on it now, I was a colossal mess when I met George in 1984. My point in taking such pains to prove it here is to show the profound impact George had on me in a relatively short amount of time; my most significant memories from my time as a student at Darlington are all tied to him in some way. More than that, though, what impressed me most about George over the years was his calm patience in response to my untrammeled immaturity, and the example he set as a father, husband, and champion of culture.
George and Betsy, it is with gratitude and affection that I wish you both the very best of luck as you move into your next phase of life. Thank you for everything you have given me.
Lee J. Hark ‘89