Mr. Ryan was my favorite teacher in the whole world. He was my 4th Grade teacher for History and Homeroom. He was a portly Irishman with a booming voice and a contagious laugh that would reveal his crooked teeth molded by years of smoking his beloved pipe. Tweed jacket with elbow patches, thick glasses from another era, sweater vests and a penchant for bowties. He was as old school as they come. You could tell he was in a room because it smelt like dad. What exactly does a dad smell like? Well, in his case it was that mixture of Cavendish, Cologne, wool and a dash of hair gel. That’s not to say that is how my dad smelled or for that matter how I smell, but it’s that smell that is hard to describe, but it’s there and it feels oddly comforting.
This may certainly be unique to my childhood memories, but Mr. Ryan was my dad away from home. The man I looked up to and turned to when I heard him speak because he was always saying something interesting or new and exciting. He taught us about the Roman Empire, the Ottomans, the Vikings, the Mayas and so on and so forth, but his narration was the mark of a true teacher. He captivated his audience (with the few usual exceptions) and made me want to know more. I would ask him hundreds of questions and he never showed signs of impatience as he answered then one by one. He was strict and he would raise his voice and that was usually enough to settle us down, but there was a nurturing side to him that I never found again during my formative years.
This man taught us how to play Bridge and Chess in his spare time and only if you were interested. Quite a challenge given that we were fourth graders. My absolute favorite part of the day, though, was when we had homeroom and he would turn down the lights, have us close our eyes and read us The Hobbit. Listening to his deep voice travel across Middle Earth was an out of body experience. I was actually there with Bilbo Baggins. Mr. Ryan even had a Gandalf shaped candle that one of us would light whenever the old wizard made his appearances throughout the story. Surely it’s not for everyone, but I was hooked. No one has had such an impact on my reading preferences as Mr. Ryan he turned me on to anything Fantasy or History related although these days I can only sneak a couple of books into my routine here and there.
The Mr. Ryans of the world are cornerstones for raising dreamers, thinkers and inventors. It seems to me that they are dwindling in number and risk extinction. I hope my son will find a teacher other than mom and dad who helps to solidify his foundations and turns him onto a subject or makes him more inquisitive or gets him to tackle a project he is passionate about. I would give anything to ensure that outside of our home my son has role models like Mr. Ryan that fill his life with the thirst for knowledge and the joy of discovery.
Thank you Mr. Ryan and may you rest in peace.