I’ve been fortunate to have met or known many influential, important, or famous people – some even took an interest in me – all helped shape me to some extent. I’ve selected a number of special people to present and exceptional moments in my career to describe and share.
One day in the Winter of 1986, Mrs. Rosemary Lockard, a former North Atlanta High English Department Chair and nice lady, asked me if I’d like to present novelist Pat Conroy as a Distinguished Lecturer. “Of course.” Was my response and would learn that Pat was a very nice man as well as a great writer. Pat Conroy presented his rules for effective writing to four hundred seniors and juniors, answered questions galore for two hours, and afterwards conducted a writing seminar for thirty creative writing students. My favorite book of his is “South of Broad”.
Dr. James Comer
I met Dr. James Comer – pictured with his son Brian and daughter Dawn – over Christmas 1995 at the pool of the Treasure Cay Resort in northwest Costa Rica where I was staying with my wife. Sue ran the Lost & Found at Independence High School in Roswell and a student had just left a Yale basketball team t-shirt in her class. I adopted it and wore it to the pool. Jim, a Yale professor, saw me and asked if I taught at there.
I answered; “No.” And we struck up a great conversation for several hours and each day for the rest of the week. Upon returning home to Atlanta, I invited Jim to be a guest lecturer at North Atlanta and he dazzled 450 students and their teachers with his intelligence and compassion.
Dr. James Comer has been one of the world’s leading child psychiatrists, is renowned for improving the scholastic performance of low income and minority students, and is the author of ten books including “Maggie’s American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family”. One particularly treasured communication from Jim was received December 12, 1997.
Hamilton E. Holmes
Hamilton E. Holmes, born July 8, 1941 and died October 26, 1995, was an Atlanta orthopedic physician. He and Charlayne Hunter-Gault desegregated the University of Georgia – Dr. Holmes was also the first black student admitted to Emory University Medical School.
Dr. Holmes earned his MD from Emory in 1967 and served as Professor of Orthopedics and Associate Dean. I got to know him well when he served as Co-Chair of the North Atlanta High PTA along with his wife Marilyn, an esteemed APS educator. I fondly recall the end of the year teacher appreciation parties that Dr. and Mrs. Holmes threw for the North Atlanta faculty and wrote the following letter to the Holmes family after Dr. Holmes’ funeral, Oct. 31, 1995.
“I want to share with you the great respect and admiration that I had for Dr. Holmes. I taught a lesson on Dr. Holmes to each of my five classes today – the subject was Dr. Holmes and how every student in the class owed him a debt of gratitude. All five classes shared a moment of silence to honor his memory.
Only a few of the students were aware of how Dr. Holmes changed the State of Georgia and the City of Atlanta. Fully one-third of the Class of 1995 will probably wind up in Athens. Nearly half of them are black. Dr. Holmes, a truly historic figure, made that reality possible.
I taught that if there was ever a man who was justified in becoming bitter and hate-filled, it was Dr. Holmes. I informed the students of the terrible ordeal he and Mrs. Hunter-Gault endured. Amazingly, his heart remained full of love and kindness for all people and even the University of Georgia. Dr. Holmes was as nice and caring a man as I have ever met and I am a better man for having known him.
I also told them that Alison and Hamilton were charter members of “Heller’s Hall of Fame” and that they embody all that was good in him. My wife Sue, who teaches at the Open Campus High School in Fulton County, also taught her students about the contributions of Dr. Holmes. My son Sasha now attends North Atlanta and loves the school for all of the same reasons – how children of diverse backgrounds get along and learn together. Sasha now knows how Dr. Holmes helped make a North Atlanta possible as well as enrich the lives of countless Georgia students.”
Darnell Bateman – Master Teacher of the Gifted
The AIDS epidemic that swept America made its way through the Atlanta Public Schools instructional staff too. I observed certain teachers, principals, and specialists get sick and eventually die. Two friends, both teachers of the gifted, contracted it; one withered from viruses and died, another retired to a Florida beach town, exercised relentlessly and the last that I heard is still alive today.
I apologize for not providing a picture of Darnell Bateman – he does not exist in today’s world of Google, Wikipedia, Facebook nor any APS data base that I could locate. But I did write a poem on Dec. 9, 1994.
Dr. Charles Crosthwait – Master Professor of Social Studies Instruction.
Charlie Crosthwait looked after his graduate level social studies students with a great professionalism and kindness. I was very fortunate to have Charles as an instructor and main advisor for my Ph. D. program. He was like a father to me with his calm and wise advice and probably the major reason behind my wife Sue for my making it through the program. Sue and I attended a retirement party for him and shortly after received the following lovely thank you note.
I am sorry for my being unable to find a photo of Charles to include in this testimonial. Two years ago, I tried to look him up while visiting my son Sasha who was working in South Padre Island, Texas, at the time. Charles had retired to nearby Harlingen after the death of his beloved Lillian. He took a call from me but age had brought on dementia and he quickly ended it because he could not follow the conversation.
Northside High Student Protest over Lecture Series Censorship
For the full description of the seminar’s cancellation, please access web site
I was very proud of the way North Atlanta students conducted themselves during the turbulent week and consider the free speech grievance suit one of the best teachable moments in my career.
Billy Densmore: Master Showman & Performing Arts Instructor
I had the great privilege and pleasure to accompany Billy during the 1989-1990 tour of Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Dom Fusco produced a video of the Northside School of the Arts exchange with Soviet Youth Visa of the Moscow Aviation Institute. Please access:
Billy Densmore was a model teacher for me. The sheer scale and size of his arts program, the cost of producing the Tour Show, the fees he commanded with his talented group of show biz kids influenced me to build the International Business Program and student run Atlanta Caribbean Trading Company, ACTCo, which was modeled by high schools in seventeen countries on four continents. The Georgia State University School of Music honored Billy’s memory and contribution to Atlanta’s arts with a glorious concert that featured many of his favorite and most successful former pupils.
Billy and I raised over $20,000 to reciprocate for our tour of Moscow, Kiev and St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, to host Soviet Youth Visa for three weeks in March of 1991.
March 21, 1991, at Papa Pirozki’s Restaurant on Roswell Road.
The weather was unseasonably warm during the Russians’ visit – many enjoyable evenings were spent in Buckhead saloons’ outside seating areas. Our guests loved Northside High and Atlanta so much that Billy and I prepared for possible defections at the end of the exchange – one was nipped in the bud. The end of communism had happened and Russia was beginning the transition to capitalism and democracy. It was a great student exchange and an exciting and hopeful time in history.
Andre Gavrilov, Soviet Youth Visa group leader, is seated in the bottom row, second from left, with sunglasses.
Rosalinda Scheer Auerbach – my sweet mother-in-law
Herman Auerbach, my father-in-law and a great restaurant man, passed at age 90. My mother-in-law, Rozzie Auerbach, survived Herman by eight years and is pictured with her son Marc (top left), daughter-in-law Lisa Black Auerbach (top right), Maggie Auerbach Bolstad (bottom left) who holds Rozzie’s great granddaughter Talulu, and (bottom right) Maggie’s husband, Paul Bolstad – four generations of Auerbachs. Rozzie passed at age 94 a few months after this wonderful occasion.
Herman and Roz Auerbach were like a second set of parents to me. I have frequently said that I never told in-law jokes and I haven’t.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed
As a member of the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission since 1995, it is my belief that all of Atlanta’s Mayors during this time have been very supportive of the seventeen committees and the volunteer work that the Chairs and the committees do. Mayor Bill Campbell was especially generous and supportive in the establishment of the Atlanta – Ra’anana Sister City Committee.
But Mayor Reed, in 2015, visited Ra’anana and sat down and broke bread with Mayor Zeev Bielski. It took seventeen years of praying to make that happen and for this Mayor Kasim Reed will always be my “homey mayor”.