Thank You, Mr. McKelvey

Last month — spurred by the incredible praise heaped upon Rich Rollins after he died — I suggested that “06880” readers might want to thank a favorite teacher or two before they die.

The post drew some thoughtful, thankful comments.  Over 30 people named men and women who had pushed, pulled, cajoled, motivated or otherwise inspired them.

One man actually tracked a teacher down.

“I’m sure you don’t remember me,” he wrote to James McKelvey.

I was an Alfred E. Newman lookalike in the 1961-62 9th grade class of Bedford Junior High School.  I had you in the middle annex building, first class to the right.  I remember well.

You were the first teacher to treat me, a complete goofball, with some respect and actual belief that I had some writing ability.  As a result of your recommendation, I was in Honors English classes at Staples and enjoyed the teaching skills of Higgins-Decker-Chalk.

I still remember that I wrote a paper for you titled “Tricks of the Trade,” regarding techniques a writer uses to convey words.  It might have been my first “A” ever.  I was overjoyed and my parents, always impressed with my older brother’s achievements, took note of my skills.

For this, I will always be indebted to you.  You opened the door for me, as I am sure you have for countless others.

The former pupil described all that had happened since then:  His eventual law degree, followed by an MFA in creative writing — and a dozen books.

He ended with thanks again — from his many old Westport friends, too — and concluded, “You meant a lot to all of us.  Your teaching skills and encouragement remain with us to this day.”

Soon, Mr. McKelvey responded.  His handwriting was a tiny bit shaky — and the penmanship came from a forgotten era — but his sentiments were strong and clear.

“Thanks for the generous compliment you paid me on the website,” he wrote, “as well as for the kind remarks expressed in the letter you mailed me last week.”

With help from your class yearbook, I was readily able to identify you from your picture.  I have enclosed a copy of that page in case your own yearbook has strayed.

As you might image, it is most unusual for a now retired teacher to hear from a former student after nearly a half century.  Even more satisfying and comforting to the retiree is the student’s perception that the teacher had played a major role in inspiring the student to seek and achieve significant success.

With all good wishes for your continued good fortune, I am,

Gratefully yours,

James McKelvey

Think of it:  A former student, now around retirement age himself, finding and thanking someone he spent just an hour a day with, for only 10 months, 50 years ago.

The teacher, the student now realizes, was not much older than he back then.  (In fact, he still is not.)

But the wisdom of those few years — and the fact that he taught, and taught well, and cared about his students — has shaped the younger man’s life forever.

For half a century, the teacher never knew that.

Now he does.

The former student taught his “old” teacher something about remembering, and gratitude, and caring.

And now both of them have passed that lesson on to all of us.

17 responses to “Thank You, Mr. McKelvey

  1. I remember Mr. McKelvey from my ’64-’67 years at BJHS. He was and is that kind of a guy. So glad to hear he’s well.

  2. Great story. Also, it’s nice to hear how the writer was so influenced at that age. I’ve always thought that the toughest age group to teach is junior high (now middle school).

  3. I’m one of those people who don’t remember anything—but I do remember Mr McKelvey (his picture)!! Junior High is tough.
    So nice to hear he is doing well.

  4. Bob Seligson

    I always respected Mr. McKelvey including his insistence on proper “margins”. He set high goald for everyone and inspired a lot of us. He obviously loved his work and it came across. Bob Seligson

  5. Diane Happel Herman

    I hope you pass on to Mr. Mckelvey that he made a huge impression on his students! I was in his homeroom for three years. The first year was his first year teaching!! I also had him for English for at least one of those years although the memory fades as to the exact one. I was most impressed by his no nonsense approach to discipline when challenged by middleschoolers whose last priority was learning Latin roots. He indeed held us to higher standards. I learned the value of his proper sentence structure and vocabulary some years later. Thank you Mr. McKelvey for your professional manner–a quality few display today!! Diane Happel Herman

  6. What a touching story. Is Mr. McKelvey the spouse of Angela McKelvey, who taught French in Weston High School? If so, here is a shout-out to her as well. Her kindness and good attitude made me feel less inept in high school. She made me feel special and important.
    Imagine! Two gems in one family!!

  7. Kerstin Warner

    Dan, this is touching and inspiring, both for its gratitude to local teachers, and for coming at a time when teachers nationwide are under attack. Here you have reminded us of the power of the positive connection in the classroom – which is why great teachers teach in the first place. Thanks for making my day!

  8. Angela McKelvey

    Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for your comment about me.,your French teacher at Weston High . For the record, Jim McKelvey is my brother-in-law. I was married to his late brother,Lee.

    • Hello Madame McKelvey,

      You may remember me, I was on the French exchange trip – the first one Weston did with the school in Choisy-Le-Roi. I am back in Paris working for a French company named Criteo, though I am based in New York. I too want to say thanks very much for being a great teacher. -Tom Burg

      • So glad to hear from you. Enjoy your stint in Paris. So glad I played a small role in your French journey. Angie McKelvey

  9. The Dude Abides

    Perfect article and picture. The only thing missing is the bow tie!!

  10. Maybe some people in Wisconsin should read this before they
    vote in the recall election???? Good teachers are the foundation to
    an evolving country that needs some direction.

  11. Sue Baskin Dickler

    WOW! I also remember Jim McKelvey. At the class of 61 50th reunion, I had the rare opportunity to chat with one of those special faculty members who made a true difference….Gordon Hall. His love of history embued me with that same love which has made me the volunteer historical interpreter I have been for the last 18 years with the NPS. It warmed the cockles of my heart to be able to tell him that directly.

  12. Sue,
    Gordon Hall and his lovely wife have been local Westport treasures to education and benefactors to countless students. Mr. Hall got involved in my life 40 years ago when I was having very serious problems as a student, helped me to live through them and I was lucky enough to run into him last year when I was back in town for my 40th SHS reunion. His mind, sense of humor and love for his students and profession remain undiminished after all these years.

  13. After reading the article twice, I was suddenly struck by the fact that good teacher McKelvey had the yearbook available at his fingertips to look up his former student. Wow! I bet he had all yearbooks from all his classes. What a wonderful teacher.

  14. My Dad is the the Higgins of “Higgins-Decker-Chalk” I will be sure to share this post with him.