A great man died yesterday, and I am fortunate to have been well acquainted with him. Charles Derleth was a painter and a longtime teacher of art at John Burroughs School in St. Louis County, Missouri. Mr. Derleth taught my daughters and thousands of other people in their adolescence. When new students (the school is 7th-12th grades) said to him, "I can't paint," he kindly and candidly said, "I can't paint as well as I would like, but with practice I can get better and better." He meant it, and they did.
15 years ago, while cutting branches off a tree in his back yard, Mr. Derleth fell and became paralyzed from the chest down. He had been a very active man, always participated in the School's weeklong programs at a rough site in rural Missouri, teaching kids ecology; but he lived the next 15 years in a wheelchair. He missed most of a year during his convalescence and rehabilitation but then resumed his teaching, and taught for another seven years. On one of my visits to the nursing home during his rehabilitation, he laughed and said he hoped to be released from "the medium security institution" by the end of the week. I remember laughing with him and also being astonished that he could laugh and joke.
Charles Derleth was as kind and supportive of people as I can imagine, and that was before his accident. He remained all that but added heroism, continuing to love and support - and TEACH - his students. He also continued to paint, and paint he did. He was marvelous.