Nick has been a key figure throughout my life. He was the journalism advisor for the Epitaph, the Homestead high school newspaper, on which I served for 3 years as a news reporter (1979 – 1981). I remember dropping in C53 after school to chat, and late night paste ups before the paper’s publication. He was always there, with his unique mix of loving kindness and scholastic rigor. I saw him just after graduating from Homestead, and still remember him saying that my biggest challenge would be to choose a major. He was right. Nick knew me because he took the time to observe, and because he cared. I remember him sternly lecturing me for slightly modifying a direct quote in a news story I’d written my first year as a cub reporter. I learned that even if what the person says seems boring, don’t embellish. Even a little.
I hadn’t returned to Homestead until 1999, and was very pleased to find Nick (and Jim Blaschke) still there. I was a tech writer at Apple Computer at the time, and my office on Infinite Loop was a half mile from Homestead’s campus. Nick wondered at the tedium of life as a tech writer and gave me an update about several of my classmates, including Janine Schenone, whom he had remained close to. Apparently she had also explored the tedium of tech writing and had found it to be less than satisfying.
I ran into Nick and Dina in 2010 in line for a Theatreworks play at the Lucie Stern Community Center in Palo Alto. It was a wonderful surprise and we began to see one another regularly after that until I shattered my ankle in a car accident in May 2013. We often met at Peet’s Coffee near Nick’s house in Saratoga.
My email correspondence with Nick was primarily dedicated to finding a time to meet. He led an extremely busy life, between his interest in the arts and time spent rehabilitating his back (previously that time had been spent exercising at the Cupertino YMCA). Perusing our emails, I came across two that were more content-rich. Nick wrote the first after we’d had a lovely lunch together at Dish Dash on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale. After that, Nick wrote:
Hi Lisa, It was a pleasure having lunch with you. I know few true progressives (lots of liberals, few conservatives) like you, so it’s always good to be reminded that there are many who carry on the progressive spirit. A journalism colleague who lives in Madison, Wisc., recently sent me a couple of copies of The Progressive, a magazine I’ve always admired, so it’s been interesting getting reacquainted with it. Here’s Natalie Weber’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. She lives in Southern California. I’m sure she would love to hear from you. I was glad to see you healthy and spirited. I appreciate our staying in touch all these years. Nick
This was written in response to an email from me while in Europe about a dream I’d had about Nick (and Rich Knapp and Mike Roa, teachers from CEBAS) who in the dream inspired me to become a teacher.
It’s good to hear from you. Lots has happened since I saw you last. I had a hip arthroscopy in mid-April, went through lots of physical therapy and have improved significantly since I saw you. My limp is diminished, but I’ll likely have a slight limp from now on. At least most of the worst of the pain is gone. I’m water walking three days a week and get into the gym three more. I’m feeling pretty well, I’m happy to say. I’m glad to know it was an inspiring dream you had. I’m honored to be in such good company. I hope you’re well and having a great time. I assume you’re still in Europe. Let me know how you’re doing. Thanks for writing. I’ve thought of you many times. Warmly, Nick
I found out that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last April 2015 just as I was preparing to leave for Georgia (country, not state). I tried to join the caring bridge site but it had already filled to capacity with concerned students, so I asked a friend to keep me posted. Meanwhile, as I did for my step mother who was facing metastasized breast cancer, I lit candles and prayed in every church I encountered, whether Russian, Georgian, Armenian, or Abkhazian orthodox or Catholic. Nick was on my mind throughout my journey, and when I returned I wanted to visit but was told not to bother them. This was hard, as I’ve had a lot of guilt after not being able to say goodbye to my dad (and more recently my step mother). So I wrote a card in which I tried to convey as many of the sentiments as I could fit on a piece of paper.
I have reproduced the card dated December 26, 2015:
Dearest Nick, You have been on my mind and in my heart for many months. As I didn’t have access to the caring bridge site, I didn’t know how you have been. I recently emailed Mika and she told me that you are a home with hospice. I had hoped to see you again one day and am very sad to hear of your state of ill health. I was reflecting on and appreciating our wonderful conversations over the years over a steaming cup of coffee at the Peet’s on Saratoga Sunnyvale near your home. Your telling me about some of your students who’d gone on to become lobbyists and staffers in Washington; about various trips you’ve taken with your lovely wife Dina; your close long-standing association with the Peltons, Crumps, Andelians, and other beloved Homestead teachers; your reminiscence about Mr. Ito, Bob Seeman, and Tom Baer, a wonderful English and theater teacher at Homestead who was a very close friend of yours and died too soon; and our lively discussions of current events and your amazing review of the news. This summer I lit candles and said quiet prayers to the divine entreating your recovery in almost every church I entered over my 5 month trip. You have been very important to me – your kindness, sincere interest in me and the rest of your students. You probably know how important you have been to all of us — but if not, know that you made a big difference in my life. It is rare to feel important as a mere student. I always felt that you had my best interests at heart, whether regarding choosing a major in college or the trying monotony of technical writing when I visited you while I was working at Apple. Thank you for all those moments. I hold you close to my heart and send wishes for comfort and as much healing as possible. I love you and thank you for all that you have been and are. Just saw the movie Spotlight and it re-inspired me about the value and importance of investigative reporting. Thank you for inspiring us to search for the truth.
There was a beautiful memorial held in Nick’s honor on March 5 at the Homestead High School auditorium. Video of the memorial and a photo montage slide show of his life is at http://www.epitaphtribute.com. The tribute was deeply moving and the auditorium packed. Roger Halstead, Nick’s team teacher and close friend of decades, gave the last talk at the memorial on goodness. I was struck that the best people are often those who feel remorse and regret. Apparently Nick battled with these feelings about something he had done as a youth, which he felt unable to forgive himself for. Roger told Nick that not only was Nick “good”, but that Roger would testify to his goodness. And he did. Not that he needed to, as we all agreed that Nick was probably one of the most loving deeply connected people in our lives. On the way out of the auditorium, I chanced to ask one young man what class he was in, as I was trying to find classmates from my years on the Epitaph Staph (78 – 80). It turned out to be Derek McCaw, a few years my junior, who played the son in the Thornton Wilder play Happy Journey to Camden (I played mama). He reminded me that we also performed the Ugly Duckling, with him as king and me as advisor. He thanked me for covering for him when he forgot his lines and said he had hoped to run into me again some day.
Still grief stricken after talking to Janet Childs at Center for Living with Dying about what Nick meant to me with, I wandered into the oasis of Green Designs Indoor Outdoor, owned by a family from Vietnam. Sharon, one of 7 siblings, is helping her brother, a landscape architect, create this magical space filled with tropical plants and intricately carved wooden statues. Her father dreamed in 1980 of the chance for his children to pursue higher education in the US. Neighbors from his homeland in Vietnam thought him crazy. He had come from a wealthy merchant family – his mother had 5 servants and was used to much luxury, which was instantly lost at the onset of the US invasion. He was granted a visa in 1982 and came to the San Jose area, got a job at the SJ Mercury delivering newspapers, which many of his children took over. They continued this route for 15 years, and each of his kids made their way into college and worked their way through school. He encouraged his kids to always follow their dreams, and though he didn’t believe in the metaphysical, he knew that he was going to die before going into a coma for 11 months. He called all his children to his bedside to say goodbye. After her story I wandered through the jungle-like environment taking in the beautiful parrots, hanging plants, waterfall, koi pond, and statues of the Buddha radiating tranquility. Thank you to visionaries like Sharon’s father. It had touched my grief stricken heart and brought me deep inner calm.