Thinking of Westport’s Mr. Proudfoot on Teacher Appreciation Day
It goes without saying that we all have that one special teacher in our life that stood out among the rest. From their life lessons to their perfectly organized or perhaps ad-libbed curriculums, something about them stood out and made a difference.
For me, that person is Mr. Harry Proudfoot of Westport High School.
I spent my final three years of high school with Mr. Proudfoot, from sophomore to senior, in his journalism class. It taught me so many things that are extremely useful for my everyday tasks, especially here at Fun 107. Even now as I'm writing this, every grammatical lesson and writing flow exercise takes place on this very page. Writing is now a breeze and it comes with passion rather than frustration with every article I have written, and it's all because of him.
He often spoke of a magical place called "Sugar Mountain" and sang his own rendition of Neil Young's 1977 masterpiece. Every year, we ended our semesters with a sing-a-long. Same song, same tempo, same lyrics. At the time, I never thought too deeply into the song itself, but now that I've aged a bit, more so mentally, it's all starting to make sense.
As kids, we tend to lose track and focus on the little things that make us happy in life. Stress, a full-time job, relationships, independence – these are all things that will shadow our youth and the memories we once enjoyed and cherished. "Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain," to me, simply translates to "Oh, to be young once again" and that's the message that Mr. Proudfoot was intending to burn into our conscience.
The song trails off and ends with a powerful line: "Aint it funny how you feel when you're finding out it's real." There's no presence or skillset that's as real as life and when it hits, you best be ready.
I'll be honest, I wasn't exactly the easiest kid to teach, but Mr. Proudfoot was patient and persistent. He saw my potential when I was blind to it and helped me harness and bring it to light. Not too many people have that effect and it was everything I ever needed to become the successful man that I am today.
These days, Proudfoot is the Chairman and CEO at Walking With Jane, a foundation that is searching for a cure to end a rare cancer called neuroendocrine cancer that sadly took the life of his late wife Jane Dybowski. Mrs. Dybowski was also a teacher of mine in Biology and was a damn good one, too.
This morning, I was able to chat with him with a surprise phone call from Michael and Maddie and his voice alone took me back:
Mr. Proudfoot taught me and many others to never give up and to think outside the box when you've hit a wall, even if the vision seems impossible. Kindness towards humanity is vital and must be practiced often; this is one of many conversations I will never forget.
From the bottom of my heart, I am forever grateful and thankful to the man who shaped my character and sharpened my mind so that one day I could show the world that although I'll "never be 20 again on Sugar Mountain," I can still hold onto what's important in life: family, friends and a youthful mind.