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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A remembrance from Robin Riley Fast

I first got to know Mike Kirk when I joined the Debate Club as a Sophomore. He was the coach. I remember very little about him from Debate, only that he was encouraging and critical. The fact that I stuck with it for three years tells me that I must have liked working with him there. And it no doubt prepared me for his classes.

Mr. Kirk was my teacher for Plane and Solid Geometry and “Senior Math”—whatever that was. I said that (“whatever that was”) to him recently, when he asked me which classes I’d taken with him. He laughed. Math was not my favorite subject, but I did enjoy Plane and Solid. Mr. Kirk was rigorous and demanding. In fact he could be quite brusque, and would never tolerate anything he considered foolish, or work below the level that he believed we could reach. We would put our work on the board every morning, and he would walk through it, step by step, getting us to see what worked, what didn’t and why, what we could do more elegantly.  There was a real feeling of accomplishment when we succeeded in creating “an elegant proof.”

(Writing this, I remember that he got me my first real job—told me about a summer opening, when I hadn’t even thought of such a thing, and whom to contact. When I said that Mr. Kirk had sent me, that was enough.)

For some of us in the Class of ’66, the biggest deal of Senior year was “The Times.” It began as “The J-High Gazette,” produced by (I think) just one or two people. It definitely was not the “J-Bird,” which, whatever else it might have been, had to answer to the faculty adviser. I think what started the “Gazette” was the new principal’s prohibition of the Senior boys’ beard-growing contest. But it quickly became more than that. By the second issue, fifteen to twenty of us were in on it, and it had a new name, “The Times: They Are A’Changing.” We may even have printed the lyrics of Dylan’s song in the second issue. In any case, the title said that even if our focus was local, and I’d guess it mostly was, we were part of the big world out there, and we were rebelling. We were all anonymous, as I recall; we were on our own, no advisers for us, and it was exciting. I don’t remember how we distributed the paper, but we did, several issues during our Senior spring, and the principal, of course, was furious. There may have been more teachers who supported us, but the ones I’m sure of were Richard Pastega and Mike Kirk. Mike was very clearly delighted by “The Times.” I remember his asking some of us, with conspiratorial glee, if we’d seen the latest issue of “the naughty paper.” Of course he didn’t officially know that we were the creative culprits, but we knew we had a reliable ally who’d defend our rights to think and speak our minds.

When I told Paul that Mike had died, he said, “I’m glad I got to know him.” And so am I glad I got to know him, as my teacher and mentor, and, because of that, as a friend. In the past several years, we saw him each time we were in Juneau, and each time we were amazed by the stories he told us and by his warmth, wit, insight, and, yes, his it-could-only-be-Mike style. He gave us a lot to think about and learn from. Thanks, Mr. Kirk, wherever you are.                   

Robin Riley Fast, Sept. 2013

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