I came in late one evening to find a small, serious boy waiting in the hallway. “Mom, I’ve got bad news. Really bad news. Mark Ross passed away.”
I set down my pack slowly, slowly. It couldn’t be. Mark was only 58, and he meant too much to too many people. Teachers are among the most important people in life, and this one taught us parents as much as the children.
In the ensuing weeks I’ve been unable to carry on a coherent conversation about Mark. Mark always had time for me, and answers, ideas, and resources ” books ” to suggest. It’s a very primal sorrow. Mark helped many of us through the joyous but uncertain world of new parenthood.
Mark and his wife, Katherine, co-founded the Mount Sopris Montessori School, a preschool he directed for nearly 20 years. He sat at the front gate, on a log worn smooth over the years, and when he left to help start a Montessori program at Crystal River Elementary, a plaque marked the spot: “Mark’s Log.” He moved on to teach in Philadelphia.
At a memorial held at the school four days after Mark’s sudden death to heart failure, Michael Hassig, Carbondale mayor, described him sitting with preternatural calm at that log, children orbiting nearby “like a swarm of electrons.” He said that after visiting Mark’s Montessori School, “We said, ‘We’re moving here.’ He’s why we’re in Carbondale.'”
I always felt there was a kind of greatness in Mark Ross. He was a purist in his belief in the dignity of every child. He was a mentor not just to me, but to my sister when she entered the fraught world of single parenthood (he graciously allowed her to call him on the East Coast); to the parents who sought his advice on through their kids’ teens; to the teacher peers he left behind, who still phoned.
My friend Julia, whom my husband, Mike, and I met at Mark’s parenting course as we all endeavored to care for our energetic, willful little boys, told me, “He always helped me see Thorne in a better way.”
Once as I entered Mark’s office for a talk, a little boy sat on the floor, presumably separated from his class until he could change some behavior, playing quietly with a truck. Soon the boy said to Mark, “I’m ready to try again,” and Mark said enthusiastically, “You are? Great!” Absolutely absent from his voice was any censure.
Both my sons remember being in that office and playing with the truck: “It was a good truck,” Roy says. “A semi.”
I once entered, sat down and said morosely, “My mother thinks Teddy’s hyperactive.”
Mark laughed. “Ohhh, Alison. I can’t tell you how many parents have come in here thinking that. And it’s always parents of boys. And they never are.” He discussed the high gross-motor activity of many small boys: “It is literally more difficult for them to walk than to run.”
One woman at Mark’s memorial described seeing a little boy at a school picnic trade everything on his plate, even cookies, for hot dogs.
“Then he stuffed them all in his mouth. And he had five hot dogs hanging out of his mouth. I looked at Mark, thinking, ‘Aren’t you going to do something?'”
Mark had smiled and said, “His parents are vegetarians.”
At one parenting class, Mark told of how he had once come home to find his daughter parading back and forth with a newly pierced nose. He simply said, “Well, it isn’t exactly my taste, but if that’s what you want to do, OK.” He said the same thing when she informed him she was dyeing her hair blue for graduation from CRMS.
I cannot imagine all that knowledge, and wisdom, lost with him. Couldn’t we have put it in a vault, somehow? Only pieces are left, but they are in many.
Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at email@example.com (write GSPI as subject heading).
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