A Good Man

“Mister Latham was what being an educator is all about,” said one coworker. “Shoot, he was what being a decent human is all about.”

Steve Latham died this morning. They tell me he slipped in the shower. His brother, Aubrey, was able to be with him during his final moments.

I still can’t believe it.

Steve was a big man. He wore a Santa-Claus beard and had the jolly disposition back it up.

He was a writer. A teacher. A media specialist. A good man. And he liked Andy Griffith more than anyone I know.

We spoke a few days ago.

“Remember that one episode?” said Steve. “When Andy thinks about leaving town? And Barney tries to talk him out of it?”

Do I.

It’s a classic. Andy gets offered a job in Raleigh. He considers taking it. Barney tries to convince him to stay. It’s TV magic.

“I truly understand how Andy felt,” Steve said. “Andy just wanted to start the next chapter of his life, that’s kinda how I feel.”

As it happens, Steve did just that. He retired earlier this year from the Shelby County school system. He was going to start his own new chapter.

He was going to write.

“I’ve always been a writer,” Steve told me. “I just haven’t taken the final leap to let myself BE a writer.”

He deserved that much. After thirty-two years of helping Shelby County’s youth achieve their dreams, it was Steve’s turn to follow his.

I drove four hours to attend his retirement party. I stood in the high-school library with my shirt tucked in. A handful of his friends and family were there.

Folks told heartfelt stories. I watched Steve wipe his eyes when Patricia, Ann, Rose, and Aubrey took turns hugging his neck.

There were tears. Laughs. People took pictures with him.

One woman thanked him for mentoring her son. Another girl thanked him for teaching her to write. Someone thanked him for showing them how to compose research papers.

“Mister Latham was what being an educator is all about,” said one coworker. “Shoot, he was what being a decent human is all about.”

There were a lot of remarks like that.

Before I left, I hugged him. He wrapped two large arms around me and squeezed.

“I feel so alive,” Steve told me. “I’m gonna ACTUALLY write my book. I’m excited and scared at the same time.”

It would’ve been one hell of a book.

Steve could write. His words were honest, with more heart than a Hallmark greeting-card commercial.

He called me a few weeks ago. It was nearly eleven at night when my phone rang. He was energized. His voice sounded decades younger.

“I got an idea,” he said. “Before you say anything, just hear me out.”

I told him to fire at will.

“Would you write a blurb for my new book when it’s finished? Don’t have to be much, just a few sentences. It’d sure mean alot to me.”

I told him it was a ridiculous idea. I said I didn’t know why he’d want anything from someone like me. In fact, I still don’t.

“Because,” he said. “You are my friend, that’s why.”

Alright, Steve. I have come up with a few words, like you asked:

You were beautiful.

Please shake Andy’s hand for me.

22 comments

  1. Judy Harris - July 24, 2017 1:24 pm

    I am so glad he knew how loved and appreciated he was before he passed away. Too often we wait, and the words are said too late … or never at all.

    Reply
  2. Laura Young - July 24, 2017 1:46 pm

    It sounds like this was a wonderful person who yearned to do what he most loved. I pray he felt fulfillment is his decision and in taking action to make it happen. I am sorry he didn’t see the dream fulfilled. I think that too many of us take the safe path rather than seek what we really dream about. I admire you, Sean, for doing what you dreamed because it brings so much joy to so many of us!

    Reply
  3. Virginia - July 24, 2017 1:49 pm

    You are special. Thanks for helping restore confidence that there are still good folks in this world.

    Reply
  4. Beth Fuller - July 24, 2017 1:56 pm

    Thank you, Sean. This was a lovely tribute to a lovely man. I truly believe that he lives on in the heart and soul of every teacher, student, and parent that he encountered. He will be missed.

    Reply
  5. Sara Howland - July 24, 2017 2:19 pm

    I thought he sounded familiar. I’m so glad you also posted your June 3 tribute to him so I could place him in context. How sad to have his light put out early, but so beautiful that he helped to light so many others’. Thanks (again!), Sean.

    Reply
  6. Kriston Phillips - July 24, 2017 2:40 pm

    Sean, I have known Steve since University of Montevallo days. He so badly wanted me to attend when you were at O Town Ice Cream in Opelika (my hometown). If I ever get a chance to see you, will certainly mention him-and we will both smile. Thank you for the kind words about our friend.

    Reply
  7. Madeline - July 24, 2017 3:00 pm

    So sorry for the loss of your friend. Sincere condolences to his family and friends.

    Reply
  8. Melodie - July 24, 2017 3:01 pm

    Thank you for my daily inspiration.

    Reply
  9. Arlene - July 24, 2017 3:27 pm

    May he Rest In Peace, and may all who knew him, and all who wish they did, be comforted. Amen.

    Reply
  10. Pam Sharpe - July 24, 2017 3:53 pm

    Sean, You have no idea how your words take life in others. I look forward to your email daily. We need more people like you in the world. I love the taste of your daily thoughts when my brain is taking in the emotion of it all. You’re a good man. Keep it up!

    Reply
  11. Sam Hunneman - July 24, 2017 4:52 pm

    So sorry, Sean. You’ve done your friend proud with this. And it’s obviously not in the least ridiculous that he’d want you to write a cover blurb. Not when you can toss out a phrase like, “I stood in the high-school library with my shirt tucked in. ” What pictures you paint, man.
    If you haven’t seen it, you might take comfort from Anne Lamott’s TEDtalk, “10 Things I Know For Sure”. At the end, she speaks of how in this life, we’re all “just walking each other home.” My own community just lost 2 young men… one 34 years old and one 26 or 27. Makes you question everything and shakes you to your foundations. But if you’re lucky, someone takes your hand and keeps walking with you. Or reads a lovely tribute to note the sadness of such a passing which spreads the joy that such folks have lived.

    Reply
  12. Debbie Knight - July 24, 2017 5:21 pm

    I had just subscribed to his blog this morning! I shared it too…I am saddened by this news. Thank you for this information. We never know how long we have to influence others…

    Reply
  13. Sharon - July 24, 2017 5:33 pm

    How God works and moves in mysterious ways. Your blog on Facebook this morning was about Steve and his retirement. May you find comfort in the days ahead of you in that you had a wonderful man as a kindred spirit.

    Reply
  14. Connie - July 24, 2017 6:16 pm

    I’m sorry for your loss. He sounds like a wonderful person, and I’m sure your memories of him will help you get through.

    Reply
  15. Jack Quanstrum - July 24, 2017 6:47 pm

    Sad to lose someone as special as he was. Life certainly is unpredictable. We all have only the moment where in. We better use it to the best of are ability. Steve did. You do Sean! I wish the best for all who read your stories. Life is,,,,,, way to short.

    Reply
  16. Dolores Fort - July 24, 2017 6:57 pm

    Thank you, Sean. Once again you have painted a vivid picture of someone very special. I remember reading about his retirement from the Shelby County school system. I was a little sad that my granddaughters would not have the privilege of getting to know him and benefit from his style of teaching. It was obvious from the comments that he was a great influence to and for our children.

    Reply
  17. Wendy - July 24, 2017 11:08 pm

    Sean, are you referring to Shelby County in Alabama? Or does anyone else know?

    Reply
    • Kim Phillips - July 25, 2017 2:38 am

      Yes, Shelby Co High is in Columbiana, AL. He was a wonderful teacher and mentor to many.

      Reply
  18. Barbara Nelle Ewell - July 25, 2017 12:44 am

    So sorry. I remember the piece you did for his retirement party, not too long ago. And I remember wishing that I knew him. Really sorry.

    Reply
  19. Kathy Lane - July 25, 2017 1:46 am

    ❤️❤️

    Reply
  20. Kathy Burgess - July 25, 2017 5:16 am

    lovely, lovely thoughts of your dear friend and his life well lived. Makes me want to put more effort into every day. Thank you.

    Reply
  21. Jon Dragonfly - July 29, 2017 4:13 am

    Read Steve Lathan’s blog “Stretchin’ from here to Pletcher” at:

    http://stretch2pletcher.com/

    Reply

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