At the New School where I have been an adjunct instructor since 1980, I have gotten to know:
–many students. Those who take my writing class for more than one semester or join my advanced workshop, I know well. One student, who stayed for 17 years and wrote 2 books which were both published, is now a close friend.
–very few faculty members. I speak with one outside of school. The others I wave to at the annual Christmas party and chat with over the brie.
–my department heads, the computer room staff, and the room assignment guy. All are accommodating and kind.
–a security guard named Will Gary. He made a difference in my life.
For 11 years, Will worked at the entrance of the 12th Street building. His smile lit up lower Manhattan. When we started talking during his first week, he acted as if seeing me brightened up his day. Smiling and conversing came easily to Will. With everyone.
He told me he was about to become a father and asked about my daughter. We spoke about raising children a lot. When his son was born, I bought him a teddy bear. Will said he slept with it and that it was his favorite present. On my way to class each week, I saw new pictures. Will beamed.
Years ago, I had a student, who walked with braces and got around by a city car service. Will helped her out when she arrived for class. When I’d get to school, she’d be at his desk talking and laughing with him.
Will was incredibly handsome.
He’d ask everyone—students, teachers, and staff– how things were going. If something was bugging me when I got to school, that something no longer mattered once I spoke with Will. Feeling his positive energy put me in a better mood.
When I became a grandmother, of course I showed Will pictures of my grandson and of course, he was thrilled to look.
When I walked into the building one day in December, he wasn’t at his desk. News of his death was posted. He had an allergic reaction to the anesthetic during an operation for a sports injury.
Will was 46.
Last week a memorial service was held in his honor. I arrived early, recognizing just a few people other than my department heads, the room assignment guy, and another security guard also named Will. I asked if I could sit with him. We found seats in the second row behind the speakers, singers, and Will Gary’s family. I was right behind his now-ten-year-old son and found some comfort in that. I told him how great his father was and how proud he was of him.
The speakers—a professor, a guard, several students, and a dean– talked of Will’s energy, positive outlook, smile, and shared experiences they had with Will. An alumnus said that other colleges are welcoming and inviting with their ivy-covered buildings and rolling green campuses. The New School had Will.
We did. People were always hovering around his desk. Everyone wanted to hang out with Will.
He changed the molecules in the lobby. He touched a lot of lives. Will was and is a constant reminder that one person—one very upbeat, positive person—through kindness and warmth and an enormous smile can make a difference in our lives.
I miss him. I am lucky I knew him. I am grateful he was at the front desk of the New School lobby for 11 years.