At the James Ross memorial/roast yesterday, I was reminded of the limits of my own perspective.
Ross died Sunday at 77. Writing a news obituary opened my eyes to the contributions he's been making to Charlotte since, well, about the time I was born. I went to the United House of Prayer for All People on Beatties Ford Road on Wednesday because I was intrigued -- not least by the fact that Ross had asked his friends to get together and tell stories about him before he died. Sadly, cancer won that race.
Hundreds came to pay their respects. The event was two hours, and Charlotte City Councilman David Howard tried hard to enforce a two-minute limit for speakers. It was still hard to fit in everyone who wanted to tell Ross stories.
People talked about Ross and his lifelong friend James Polk, "two guys from Grier Town" who never stopped trying to make their neighborhood and their city better. They talked about Ross dealing with race riots and Ross on the golf course. They talked about his famously lengthy conversations, his knack for making everyone feel like his best friend and his devotion to helping young people better themselves.
We heard blues and gospel and a Siddha yoga chant (Ross was devoted to meditation). There were tributes from an array of local and state officials, Republican and Democrat. Several said they'd been on opposite sides of issues with Ross, but that he could disagree with humor and respect. Many talked about his independent mind and the value he placed on common sense over ideology.
It was a great reminder that much of the work of problem-solving and community-building takes place outside the realm of official action. In the brief time that our professional lives overlapped, Ross always made me smile. I left his "roast" smiling, too. And I left with a deepened respect for all he'd done when I wasn't around to see it.
|Eaker with her granddaughter, Kate Gresham|
Years before I started covering education, Kat enthralled me with her stories of life in the classroom at West Mecklenburg High. Her passion for helping her students improve their future, sometimes against steep odds, was my introduction to the nobility and challenge of a teacher's life. When I sense my reporting is veering into dry abstraction, I think about the drama, humor, compassion and struggle in her accounts.
It's a standard I can't match. I'll miss her, and I know many others will too.