A Man of True Character
Eulogy (April 13, 2002 10:00 A.M.)
St. Michaels Church, Poway, CA
I have had the opportunity this past week to talk with many people about my friend and student Brian Gillis. And as I talk, I find myself saying over and over, again: He was such a good listener!
As I stand here I can picture Brian, head cocked to one side, eyes open, listening. Nodding his head from time to time, smiling, looking up, but always listening. I can picture him listening to a girl in my class sharing a painful breakup with her boyfriend and listening to one of his buddies on the quad complaining about finding a parking space in the junior lot. I can picture him listening to his Freshman Link students asking questions about life at Poway High and listening to his basketball coaches. I can especially picture him listening to a certain American Literature teacher rant and rave about classroom discipline and respect.
Brian was in the first American Literature class I taught at Poway High. One particular day nothing was going right, and when my third period class arrived, I immediately started barking orders. One of the girls took my shouting the wrong way and called me a name I can't repeat - especially in church. Well, of course, I exploded and ordered her out of the room, declaring that as soon as I calmed down long enough to write a referral she was on her way up to the front office! Everybody else in the class just sat there frozen, but not Brian. Brian decided to be the brave one in the crowd and approach my desk. "Tough day, huh, Mrs. Walton" is all he said. Then he sat down on the edge of my desk, ducked his head and waited. Well, I went through the whole routine about classroom discipline and demanding respect from my students and how no teacher could be expected to put up with behavior like this. Brian just kept on nodding. Then, before I knew it, I was telling Brian and the rest of the class how I'd called one of my teachers who happened to be a nun - the very same name in high school and how I remembered being so mad at her that the expletive just slipped out before I could stop it. And I really didn't mean it, but I still got suspended for a week and grounded at home and, thirty years later, it still wasn't fair. That's when Brian finally spoke again. "So I should go next door to D-50 to get her?" I nodded. The girl returned to class, everybody relaxed, and we got back to the business of learning. Whenever I looked at Brian for the rest of the period, he was grinning.
A philosopher once remarked that "one friend, one person, who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider our problems, can change the way we view the world." Each one of us here today, including me, has had our world changed by the love and the listening extended to us by Brian Gillis. And if I can leave you with one suggestion, one wish, it is that you take the time now to listen to Brian. Listen to the lessons that his life and his death can teach us. Know that the years he spent on earth, though far too few, were extraordinary ones. Remember the time he took to listen to you, to make sure that things were right in your world, and do the same for others.
Reputation may be what men and women think of us, but character is what God and the angels know of us. Today we say goodbye to Brian Gillis, a young man of true character.
Noreen Walton, English Teacher and Link Crew Advisor, Poway High School, Poway, CA.