■ Everyone leaves footprints in your memory, but the ones that leave footprints in your heart are the ones you will truly remember ~ Nicholas Sperling
On Saturday morning I awoke to find a voice mail message from a colleague on my cell phone. I didn’t really think much of it and figured he was probably calling to ask where I was going to be watching the NFL play-off game that afternoon. As I waited to be connected to my message I was thinking about where we might go, Chili’s maybe or perhaps Casa Del Rey, but when I heard the message I knew I wouldn’t be going anywhere loud or crowded, in fact the further away from people I could be, the better.
I’m not a big fan of receiving any type of bad news by way of a recorded message and would never do that to anyone, but that’s just me. The message my colleague left me was of the worse kind, he called to inform me of the death of our mutual friend, colleague and former boss, Art Mason. Although I knew Art hadn’t been doing too well, I was shocked to hear that he had passed the previous evening. Art was one of the finest person’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, a true prince among men! Oh he’d be the first to say “I ain’t no saint,” but his graciousness, patience, generosity and true caring nature said otherwise. Talk about a ‘class act.’ He was that and more!
Few people have had as big of an influence on my life as Art as far back as high school. As a troubled teen I ended up in continuation high school for the last two months of my junior year. These days our continuation high school is a fully accredited alternative high school. The majority of students are there because they’re behind in credits. There they have the opportunity to catch up on credits and return to the regular high school for their senior year or they can stay and graduate from continuation. When I was in continuation back in 68 it was the place they sent the problem students, trouble makers and hell raisers.
Now some of you who knew me back then may actually think I belonged there, but believe me I didn’t! Compared to the future bikers, drug addicts and drop outs who attended in 68, with names like Gabby, Moose, Scratchy and Smoke, I was a good boy. But it was there in the crazy world of long hair, torn levis and white tees, countless smoke breaks, angry shouting matches and fights, that I first met Mr. Art Mason, teacher.
I’ll never forget that first morning I walked into his classroom. I remember standing in the doorway watching these 20 or so students acting like a bunch of idiots, loud, rude and brutish, and thinking to myself “what the hell have I gotten into?” I probably looked like a deer caught in the headlights. About that time Art came walking in. He pointed me towards an empty desk then called the class to order, a feat I thought would never happen. But in a matter of a few moments the classroom settled down and gave him their attention. Sure there was still some minor talking going on but it was nothing compared to before After giving the students (all boys) an assignment to work on he came over and introduced himself to me and said quietly, “You don’t belong here, we’ll get you out of here and back to Azusa HS as quickly as possible.” Now it was quite unusual at that time for continuation students to return to the regular high school and was the exception rather than the rule, but thanks to him and the interest he took in me I was able to earn enough credits to return to Azusa High School for my senior year.
Yeah, Art was one of the good ones. He was such an incredible man and a hell of a teacher! His genuine care and concern for his students put him a cut above the rest. He had a passion for life and helping others. He helped me so much in those troubled times. No matter what he was doing or how busy he was, he always made himself available to me and would listen patiently to me, then we’d talk and he’d offer his advice. I loved that about him. I was just a teen who he really didn’t even know and he could have very easily shooed me away or told me to come back at a more convenient time, but he never once did that. He always took the time for me.I’m sure he was late getting home for dinner a time or two on account of me. Even in the years after I finished high school I could always rely on him when I needed a friend. His classroom door was always open to me and I used it often.
Years later when I decided to return to college he was the first person I thought of to talk to about my decision. I called Azusa Unified to find out if he was still in the district and discovered that he was at Gladstone High School. His assignment? Career Counselor. Coincidental? probably, but it certainly was timely for me. I went to see him immediately. It was as though the years had never passed. We picked up right where we had left off, (a true sign that you are friends) He gave me advice I followed it and five years later I was a teacher! Nine years after that I became a counselor at Azusa High working for him.
I’ve got to tell you, he was absolutely the best boss I ever had. Working for him for those first three years were a Godsend. I cherish those years. I learned so much from him. He made our office a very comfortable place to work, especially with that infectious laugh of his! I can still hear it ringing through the office! He always told me that having a good sense of humor was an essential part of life. He also taught me that a good counselor knows when to bite his tongue and he was certainly right about that. He used to say that he’d bitten his tongue so often to hold back words that he’d probably die of tongue cancer someday. Yes Art taught me so much about counseling and about life. I’m forever grateful. When I used to feel overwhelmed by the job he was always quick to encourage and gave me reassurance. Funny, but he could always see a potential in me that I had difficulty seeing.
Art Mason was my friend, mentor, role model, boss and sometimes even my spiritual guru. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known him. He was unique. He set the standard for not only the type of counselor I try to be, but for person I have become. I will always be thankful to him for that.
Rest in Peace Art, you will be missed…