In Memory of Mr. Ross

Richard Ross was one of the most influential people in my life. He was the Assistant Principal of Guidance at Francis Lewis High School where I spent three amazing years. I think he was the first adult, certainly the first “teacher”, who treated me as an adult but with a deference that commanded me to act as one as well. We discussed politics, both local and global, and we frequently debated the issues. There were times when our opinions differed greatly but he taught me the value of listening fully to an opposing viewpoint and weighing the ideas.

One day we were speaking about racism and our personal encounters with it. He said, “I wouldn’t trade it. Not a single insult, slight or jibe because everything, good and bad, is what makes me me. And I kinda like me. I hope you like you. And if you don’t you’re an idiot.”

He called me “Number One Son” which was a reference only he and I got and it made us laugh. I like to think he liked my sense of humor and duty. I like to think we were friends. Or maybe he was a great educator who had a sense for when a lonely kid needed an adult friend outside the normal adolescent mess. Either one makes him great.

Mr. Ross, from my HS yearbook. He wrote, "Dear Son..."

You know that part of the high school movie where the nerd makes a speech declaring his love for that cute popular girl? In real life that speech makes you a pariah and does not get you the girl. Mr. Ross stopped me from making that speech.

He frequently told me to call him Richard in private. I tried it once. I didn’t like it.

New York State has something called the Regents Exams. One year, on the Algebra Regents, I got the lowest (of the people who actually took it) in the state, a 23. It was the angriest I had ever seen him. He was furious and shouted at me to take some things serious. “I know you think it’s below you and that you’re smarter than everyone else, but why not prove it? Take it for real and prove it for once.” He was right and I was embarrassed. So I buckled down, actually studied for the next Regents and got one of the highest in the state; a 98 on the English Regents and a 96 on the History Regents. The next year I took the Algebra Regents again and I passed with a 72. I still hate math.

Mr. Ross knew me pretty well and gave me some advice; “It’s okay to ask for help now and then. And even then, you’re allowed to fail once in a while. In fact, it might even be good for you.”

In my attempts to live up to those words I have failed many times since then.

Last year, on Facebook, Mr. Ross and I started writing and finally I just called him up on the telephone like a proper person. We brought each other up to speed and congratulated each other and gossiped about who was where nowadays. And I had chance to thank him. To really tell him how much his friendship meant to me. And I was glad of it because he was an amazing teacher, a great mentor and a wonderful friend.

Mr. Ross passed a few days ago and the world is poorer for it.

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9 comments on “In Memory of Mr. Ross

  1. What a meaningful tribute! I am sure that Mr. Ross knew how much he meant to you, and I feel that you meant a great deal to him as well. Be sure to keep teaching others what he taught you – he will live on through it as well as through this touching memory/blog.

  2. Thank you Jason for your generosity of words regarding my father. I am touched by your experiences and interactions with him. He told me right before his death his life will be as long as the people who remember him. Thank you for continuing his legacy by impacting the lives of others – the world needs you! With gratitude, I thank you.

  3. Jason I am Richard Ross’s niece. It feel strange saying Richard Ross because to me he was Uncle Andre or Uncle Daddy lol. I can’t believe he is gone, but I know that my life is richer for having known him. The memories that I have of him right now give me pain but someday they will offer comfort. The same is for you. Just remember what he has taught you and pass it on and he will not truly ever die. I hope that I can get a chance to meet you at the memorial.

  4. Hi Jonathan, I didn’t have the opportunity to know Mr. Ross as you did, and wouldn’t have known that you felt the way that you did in high school. You always appeared confident and outgoing to me. I am happy that Mr. Ross was there to support, guide, encourage and just be a friend. All of need that and I try to do the same for my students except I call myself the Auntie instead of friend. Mrs. Jones was my Mr. Ross and before the school year ends I am going to walk myself over to the other side of the LIE and catch up with Mrs. Michele Jones before she retires at the end of the school year. A student who graduated from my middle school informed me that she was still there and retiring. Thank you for sharing the impact Mr. Ross had on you and I’m sure many others. Continue to carry his spirit with you and spread it to others. My condolensces to his family and all and may God bless you.

  5. Jason,
    I have fond memories of you and your name was often mentioned by “Mr. Ross”. When we spoke, we gave updates on our families and shared info on former students.
    First Richard was my supervisor. As we worked together a deep friendship developed. We always knew that our interests focused on our students’ success.
    It was wonderful to work in such a positive atmosphere. Students didn’t know that help came from me because Richard backed up my decisions.
    I miss my friend dearly.

    • Mrs. Hollander,

      I don’t know if my name will ring a bell or not, my name is Christopher Corrao. I graduated Lewis in 1988 and I was a fixture in Mr. Ross’ office. I do believe you will remember my best friend at the time (and still today) though, Mark Santiago. Mr. Ross was like a father to Mark in High School. Both of us always tried to track Mr. Ross down, but we were never successful. I just learned of his passing today and will pass the news to Mark. I’m sure he will be truly upset. Mr. Ross was a great man.

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